Last year marked the return of San Diego Comic-Con for the first time in three years, due to the global pandemic forcing the convention to skip hosting the annual four-and-a-half-day event in both 2020 and 2021. Not everything was back to normal in 2022 — there were some new players (such as Apple TV+), the loss of others (Warner Bros. and DC’s absence were particularly felt on the show floor), and other changes both big and small after a two-year break and a major economic shift.
But for San Diego Comic-Con attendees, perhaps no change was greater felt than the lack of carpeting throughout the exhibit floor. At the time, Comic-Con International had told vendors that the decision not to carpet the show floor was “not made lightly” and that they “fully expect[ed] to go back to a carpeted exhibit hall in 2023”.
That, unfortunately, has not happened. The exhibit floor will once again not be carpeted for 2023’s event.
For some, like attendee Jhon Cornejo, walking on hard concrete for days without the extra support and cushioning of carpet is going to have a big impact on his convention experience.
“I am a disabled U.S. Air Force veteran who has medical issues that I suffer every day. Its difficult for me to stand and walk for long periods due to back, knee and foot problems stemming from my military service. So the [previous] carpeting at SDCC was great cause it was throughout the hall. I was able to walk and stand with little to no pain throughout all four days,” Cornejo said. “2022 was hard on me because there was no carpeting throughout the convention floor except at the exhibitor booths. I spent more time there to keep the swelling down.”
Similar to last year, booths and tables are able to purchase carpeting should they desire at a cost — but common areas, such as the walking aisles, will again not be carpeted.
For attendee Ashley Tucker, the lack of carpeting made her spend less time on the show floor last year — so less time shopping, and less time purchasing items from vendors. “I was noticing how my feet and back would start to hurt just after a couple of hours, even on the first day, when in past years it wouldn’t be until the end of each day that I would notice any discomfort.”
Last year’s lack of carpeting didn’t just affect attendees, either. While some vendors chose to purchase carpeting for their booths, and for some like corner booths it was included, for many exhibitors, the lack of carpeting affected their experience as well. Like most vendors, the California Browncoats (a non-profit that promotes the fandoms of Firefly and Serenity through charitable work, who have exhibited at the convention for several years), spend their entire day on the show floor, often for eight to ten hours a day.
“No carpet equals extreme foot, ankle, knee and back pain. By the end of the con, we’re hobbled. We’re volunteers and this should be hard work, but fun. And it’s hard to have fun when you are in extreme pain,” Lynelle Miliate-Ha, co-director of the California Browncoats, said, with additional input from the California Browncoats Board. “If it’s hard for vendors, it has to be even worse for attendees. We have a chair behind the booth that we all get to take breaks on. Attendees said they couldn’t spend as much time on the floor as they wanted because they were in too much pain.”
At convention centers around the country, carpeting is typically installed specifically for each event, meaning it has to selected, cut, and placed, as well as removed after, for each event. Freeman is the largest provider in the convention center carpeting space, and they also are the “event decorator” for San Diego Comic-Con.
With over 460,000 square feet of exhibit floor at SDCC, that’s a lot of carpet, with a cost that is surely in the hundreds of thousands if not millions, to carpet.
Like most businesses in the event space, the pandemic was hard on Comic-Con International. “For the first time in our history we had to cancel in-person shows for 2020 and 2021 which resulted in little income for those years,” David Glanzer, Chief Communications and Strategy Officer for Comic-Con International, explained to ICv2 in an interview last year, and noted that they are continuing efforts to be “fiscally responsible”.
As a fellow nonprofit organization, the California Browncoats are “ultra supportive” of Comic-Con International’s need to save money following the pandemic. “Comic-Con International spent several years without cons, and they are probably trying to build up their financial base that will allow them to make better choices in the future,” Miliate-Ha said.
At the time no carpet was announced to exhibitors back in 2022, Comic-Con International stated that the decision was “due to continuing Covid concerns”. Last year, the convention also had other Covid-19 protocols in place, such as requiring attendees to be vaccinated or to provide negative test results. For 2023, they have effectively announced they will not be requiring any additional requirements for Covid-19 protocols. This year’s carpet announcement to exhibitors included no mention of Covid, either.
Cornejo has been to several other large conventions, including New York Comic Con and DragonCon, which do still have carpeting since the pandemic. “The local and smaller cons don’t due to budget. I get it, but San Diego Comic Con is not a local and small con. It’s the grand daddy of all Comic Con’s throughout the US,” he said. “I understand it’s hard due to cutbacks, and SDCC had to do that to survive and bring back SDCC in 2022, but I was hoping that 2023 would be different.”
Attendee Scott Brizzolara echoed these sentiments, and worried about what this could mean moving forward. “Last year they were very cost conscious for obvious reasons, but I do worry that now that they realize they can get away with no carpet and people will just grumble, we’ve seen the last of the carpet,” Brizzolara said.
For other attendees, the lack of carpet was a surprising benefit that they hope continues. For Kylie Martin, who uses a wheelchair, the lack of carpet improved her experience.
“My first year there was carpet and it was difficult to navigate over [with my wheelchair],” Martin explained. “Last year’s Comic-Con it was so much easier. I did not have any issues, excluding the few booths that had thick carpet. It was better overall last year. I am hoping they stick to no carpet. I wish the booths with thick carpet would switch to something thinner, although I understand walking is easier on carpet.”
For those concerned about the economic impact limited-use carpet could have, Freeman rents their carpet for events — and at the end of the convention, rather than disposing of the carpet, they transport it back to their warehouses to match like pieces of carpet together and seam them together to be re-used. Aisle carpets can be reused typically four to five times and booth carpet can be used often six times. The San Diego Convention Center was also named the Recycler of the Year in 2017, thanks in part to efforts like their partners at Waste Management, who together have noted that they are able to recycle all exhibit floor carpet at San Diego Comic-Con.
Even though there won’t be carpeting in the exhibit hall for 2023, there is always hope that the decisions being made this year could put Comic-Con International in a better fiscal situation to bring it back in the future. But there is also the possibility that this is simply the new normal.
“To me, San Diego Comic-Con should strive to be the jewel of the convention scene,” Brizzolara said. “I think right now observers are looking at the convention and worried that it’s lost some of its cultural relevance, and I think it has for a number of reasons. But it’s still the number one convention with an incredible atmosphere, and even in years when there’s a strike on and so forth, making the floor as inviting and rewarding as possible for both attendees and exhibitors at least keeps a core aspect of the convention that is largely under the control of CCI.”