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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s first foray into the world of comic books and geekdom was a success, judging by the number of people who crammed into the Salt Palace Convention Center over the weekend.
More than 50,000 people bought tickets to attend Salt Lake Comic Con, according to event organizer Dan Farr, filling the venue to capacity with more than twice as many as visitors as anticipated.
The huge crowds prompted fire marshals to limit access Saturday, as people stood shoulder to shoulder waiting to see such comic icons as Spider-Man co-creator Stan Lee. Thousands more stood outside waiting to enter but were only allowed inside when someone else exited.
For the most part, the public response for the state's first Comic Con was positive, though Farr acknowledged there were some hiccups.
While the show inside was packed to capacity, thousands of other ticket buyers were prohibited from attending due to safety concerns. After being told they were restricted from entering, several people stood outside waving their receipts demanding entry or their money back.
Farr said those who were unable to get in could contact Media One — the company responsible for managing the ticketing — to obtain a refund.
"We have got to make sure people are taken care of," he said. "If they have a bad experience this time, then it's going to be hard to get them back next time."
Utahns who took to social media Monday were mostly forgiving of the logistical problems the young convention faced. They shared pictures on the Salt Lake Comic Con Facebook page, thanked organizers for bringing the party to Utah and promised to return next year.
"There were obviously some problems, but those three days were absolutely incredible," said one reviewer. "Anyone else having Comic Con withdrawals?" asked another.
It didn't hurt to have the governor meet Stan Lee on the (airport) tarmac and bring him to the convention center on Saturday.
–event organizer Dan Farr
Naysayers frustrated about long lines, a lack of freebies in convention grab bags and the crowded venue also aired their complaints online, but they were in the minority.
Regarding the throngs of enthusiastic attendees, Farr said the event set the record for the largest inaugural Comic Con in any city.
“Before we sold a single ticket, our expectations (for total attendance) were somewhere between 10,000 to 15,000 people,” Farr said. “Within a week or two of selling tickets, that number became 10,000 to 20,000.”
He said to sell that many tickets for a first-time event would have been thrilling enough. To sell more than double that number was “better than my wildest dreams,” he said.
The event was about five months in the making, Farr said, adding that it was the first Comic Con he had ever produced. He credited help from a local media company, as well as extensive marketing via social media and the constant addition of celebrity guests as the reasons for high interest in the event.
“It didn’t hurt to have the governor meet Stan Lee on the (airport) tarmac and bring him to the convention center on Saturday,” Farr said.
The overwhelming response likely will help future shows be even more attractive to potential organizers and attendees, he said.
Farr declined to release specific numbers, but preliminary revenue for the three-day event was estimated at “between $1 million and $2 million.”
“Initially, our budgets were in the hundreds of thousands of dollars,” he said. “As we grew, costs went up significantly.”
Despite the increased expense, Farr said the show was still profitable — so profitable, in fact, that he is planning on one or even two more expanded events in the next 12 months.
“Next year around the same time for sure, but there may be something sooner,” he said. “It would be another Comic Con-type event.”
Farr said similar established shows tend to grow about 20 percent to 40 percent annually, which is his goal for the Salt Lake event.
“Some of the same (guests) who did really well, we would bring back,” he said.
Ticket prices would be similar, though more focus would be put on upfront sales to encourage people to buy in advance, he added.
While the show was a major hit for local geeks and comic aficionados, the event was relatively small in scale compared with some of the area's top recurring events.
For instance, Salt Lake Comic Con was half the size of the Outdoor Retailer show in terms of space utilized at the Salt Palace, according to facility general manager Dan Hayes. The show also was categorized as a consumer show rather than a convention.
Conventions are typically formal meetings of members, representatives or delegates of organizations such as a political party, fraternal society, profession or industry. Conventions are usually closed to the public and generally contract for hotel rooms, offsite venues and other destination services, in addition to utilizing the convention center.
Consumer shows showcase products for new potential buyers or sometimes new-concept inventions or prototypes. The shows focus on inciting public interest and getting brand names out to the public. They generally contract solely the venue, and the majority of the attendees are local.
Overall, the crowd was very orderly and event was well-organized, Hayes said.
"The attendees were wonderful to work with and were certainly engaged in their event at a different level than others might be," he said. "But it made for a wonderful event. We look forward to working with them again."
Contributing: McKenzie Romero