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.
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)

Comic-Con, in an announcement that had been expected for weeks, said Friday, April 17, that it was canceling its July convention due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has so far required 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 of Comic-Con, which attracts 135,000 people over a four-day period, to move forward.

Not only will the convention’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. It marks the first time in the convention’s history that it has ever been canceled.

Comic-Con organizers said they had hoped that concerns surrounding COVID-19 would ease by summer but they could see this week that would not happen. The next convention will not be until July 22-25, 2021

“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, April 17.

“Extraordinary times require extraordinary measures and while we are saddened to take this action, we know it is the right decision,” said David Glanzer, Comic-Con spokesman. “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 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. Email instructions will be coming in the next week. Likewise, exhibitors will have the option for a refund or they can transfer their payments to Comic-Con 2021 .

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 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.

It is 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.

-- Lori Weisberg is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune