Imagine New Orleans without Mardi Gras, New York City without the U.S. (Tennis) Open, or Augusta National without the Masters.  Can’t do it!  That’s the kind of symbiotic brand equity relationship San Diego has built with Comic-Con, the pop-culture mega-event that enjoyed its debut here in 1970 and has been held in our fair city ever since.

Comic-Con ranks as the Convention Center’s largest annual event, and is conservatively estimated to generate $135.9M in regional economic impact. But the greater impact may come from the event’s brand connection with the city of San Diego.

The annual event has become such a part of the fabric of our community that when attendees, sponsors and promoters think Comic-Con, they think San Diego – an immediate connection that can’t be bought. Borrowing from more traditional consumer brands, when you think “ketchup”, what brand comes to mind (Heinz)?  When you think of “the safest automobile”, which brand typically comes to mind first (Volvo)?  This kind of brand equity association is very rare. It gets built slowly over time, and brand managers must do whatever it takes to support its continued growth.

From a tourism perspective, San Diego is generally considered a great family vacation destination (think San Diego Zoo, SeaWorld, beaches, etc.). Comic-Con connects San Diego to a different but very important segment of the population – the young, hip, pop-culture early adopters that aren’t typically associated with our town. Comic-Con helps to position San Diego as a young, hip town among a segment of the population that has money to spend and may very well have families of their own in 10-15 years.

Despite being actively courted by both Anaheim and Los Angeles, Comic-Con recently signed an agreement to stay in San Diego through 2018. This is very good news, but there’s still work to be done.  According to the San Diego Business Journal, local hotels had to make some guarantees on hotel pricing and inventory to secure the agreement.  And Comic-Con organizers remain concerned that the event is outgrowing the Convention Center. So this is where the City of San Diego must put its best creative foot forward to find out-of-the-box solutions to keep Comic-Con here.

To some, losing Comic-Con would be tantamount to losing the Chargers.  Yes, the Chargers generate more widespread civic pride among local San Diegans. But do they generate more outside tourism dollars for the city?  Hard to tell, but the Comic-Con crowd is likely very different from the Chargers crowd, and hurting either’s connection to San Diego, or lessening their enthusiasm for this great city, would have their own negative impacts.

Comic-Con has been a source of great civic pride for more than 40 years, and is one of the few things San Diego can call its own.  We’re glad it’s staying through 2018, but let’s do what we can to keep it here for another 40 years!

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