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It’s official: Comic-Con canceled this year because of COVID-19

Absent from downtown San Diego and the convention center this July will be the tens of thousands of Comic-Con fans who turn out each year for the always sold-out pop culture gathering.
(Howard Lipin/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The announcement comes following weeks of speculation that the pop culture extravaganza would have to likely cancel due to continued social distancing restrictions

Comic-Con, in an announcement that had been expected for weeks, said Friday that it is canceling its July convention due to the coronavirus pandemic, which is still necessitating strict prohibitions against gatherings of any kind in California.

With Gov. Gavin Newsom indicating this week that statewide restrictions on large events are likely to remain in place through the early summer months, it would be impossible for a convention the size and density of Comic-Con, which attracts 135,000 people over a four-day period, to move forward.

Organizers said they had hoped that the health and safety concerns surrounding COVID-19 would ease by summer but they could see this week that would not happen. This year marks the first time in the convention’s 50-year history that it has been canceled.

The next convention will not be until July 22-25, 2021. Comic-Con had earlier canceled its sister convention, WonderCon, which was to be held in Anaheim this month.

“Continuous monitoring of health advisories and recent statements by the Governor of California have made it clear that it would not be safe to move forward with plans for this year,” the organization said in a news release Friday morning.

“Extraordinary times require extraordinary measures and while we are saddened to take this action, we know it is the right decision,” said Comic-Con spokesman David Glanzer. “We eagerly look forward to the time when we can all meet again and share in the community we all love and enjoy.”

For those who had purchased the much-coveted Comic-Con badges for this year’s event, they will have the option to request a refund or transfer the badges to Comic-Con 2021. Likewise, exhibitors will be able to seek a refund or they can transfer their payments to next year’s convention.

Not only will Comic-Con’s legions of fans be losing out on an event they plan for and eagerly await a year in advance, the city’s local businesses — most notably hotels and restaurants — will no doubt be grieving financial losses estimated to be $88 million in direct spending by attendees.

Comic book writer and historian Mark Evanier, who has been to every Comic-Con since the first one in 1970, says he will miss it terribly this year, but also is concerned for those in the industry who rely on the annual gathering for their craft and their economic well-being.

“Maybe I’ll just mindlessly wander the streets of San Diego that weekend and talk to anyone who looks like they’re in costume,” joked Evanier. “Its absence will have great ramifications for the industry, because there are a lot of dealers and exhibitors who build their entire commerce for the year around that convention, and they’re going to scramble to find some way to replace it.

“Somewhere there was a kid doing drawings hoping to connect with a publisher, and he’s lost that opportunity. And somewhere there’s someone who spent hundreds of hours putting together a costume and now can’t wear it. And there’s another who saved for years to go to Comic-Con, got a badge, booked an airline ticket and that whole dream has now been put on hold for awhile. But that is what happens in a pandemic, I guess. We all lose large chunks of our lives.”

Regionwide, the convention, which each year attracts top television and film studios who come to preview their latest projects, delivers an economic impact approaching $150 million.

Comic-Con’s exit for this year marks the latest cancellation of high-profile events, including San Diego Pride, also planned for July; the San Diego County Fair, in June; and the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon, originally scheduled for the end of May.

Before making its decision to call off this year’s Comic-Con, which was to be July 23-26, organizers wanted assurances from local hotels that the convention wouldn’t be on the hook for major financial penalties related to large blocks of reserved rooms.

In an email sent earlier this month to the more than 50 hotels that are part of the convention room block for Comic-Con, the San Diego Tourism Authority pointed out that organizers were having to consider canceling the show and needed to know, should the gathering be called off, whether any cancellation fees or penalties for this year’s event could “be waived as we work through this challenging process. Comic-Con continues to be a loyal partner and important economic generator for the City of San Diego and has been for over 50 years.”

The vast majority of the hotels have since agreed to the request, said Joe Terzi, CEO of the tourism bureau, which oversees the booking of larger citywide meetings at the convention center. Across the county, Comic-Con fills hotels large and small, with an estimated 64,800 room nights typically booked for the popular convention.

The loss of Comic-Con this year is significant, says Terzi, but even more worrisome is the overall economic devastation that the city’s tourism sector has suffered as a result of the pandemic quashing leisure and business travel.

“In the month of July, hotel occupancies have been about 90 percent-plus in the city of San Diego for the last several years but this month, we expect it will be less than 50 percent,” said Terzi. “Comic-Con is a great, visible event and gives us international exposure that’s really important, but my comments are related to everyone in the industry who relies on tourism for their income, and right now, there’s no clear picture as to when things will turn around.”

Comic-Con, in its Friday announcement, said that those individuals who had already reserved rooms in hotels participating in a special convention room block will not have to take any action to cancel their bookings. Over the next few days, onPeak, the company that handles hotel bookings for Comic-Con, will be canceling all reservations and refunding all deposits.

The annual comic book and pop culture convention is the latest among more than 20 larger groups that have already canceled meetings originally planned for the San Diego Convention Center in March, April, May and June. Not counting Comic-Con, the lost business is estimated to cost San Diego some $203 million in lost spending at hotels, restaurants, bars and other businesses.

Updates:

12:07 PM, Apr. 17, 2020: The story has been updated to include information on badge and hotel refunds.


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