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Saturday, September 30, 2023

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Ari Gaffen (second from right) with the voice actors from “Family Guy” (Courtesy photo) Ari Gaffen (second from right) with the voice actors from “Family Guy” (Courtesy photo)

SDSUxCOMIC-CON: Will Writers’ and Actors’ Work Stoppage Make for a Different Comic-Con International Experience?

SDSU marketing faculty discuss major players' absence, brand evolution, and attendees' experience at a suddenly diminished convention.
By Suzanne Finch

With the parade of costumes, celebrity watchers, memorabilia collectors and more, thousands of Comic-Con International fans will converge on San Diego when the event opens for its preview night July 19 and runs through July 23. But with the Writers Guild and SAG-AFTRA actors’ union strikes, the event has lost some of its luster. 


Two faculty members at San Diego State University’s Fowler College of Business, management lecturers Vince Ferraro and Ari Gaffen, shared their thoughts on how the labor shutdowns might affect the event, and how the Comic-Con brand has evolved over the past 50 years. 


SAG-AFTRA started their strike July 13 and the Writers Guild has an ongoing strike. How will this impact Comic-Con International 2023? 


Ferraro: The strikes will impact the participation of the actors and writers in the panel sessions, discussions, presentations, and autograph signings. This could result in fewer announcements and a different overall experience for attendees. In addition, there have been cancellations of large exhibitors like Disney+, Netflix, Sony, and other major studios. This could diminish the overall buzz and popularity of the show with some fans.


Gaffen: There won’t be any panels from Lionsgate (film side only), Lucasfilm, Marvel Studios, Netflix, Sony and Universal Studios. These companies have been responsible for huge draws in the past as some of the attendees are their most devoted fans. I don’t think there will be a huge economic impact, since tickets have been sold out since November 2022, but if the strikes aren’t resolved soon, we may see slower ticket sales for next year. 


Could the absence of the major players hurt them make any other difference?


Ferraro: The absence of major players could have both positive and negative implications for them, depending on various factors such as missed marketing opportunities, benefits to the competition, exploration of other strategies, their existing popularity and the expansion of visual alternatives. Ultimately, the impact of these major players’ absence will depend on their long-term strategies and their success in communicating to their audience through other channels. Plus, if the supply chain on entertainment continues to be disrupted, these studios may feel less of a need to promote themselves. 


Gaffen: These studios will probably be fine in the short-term if there is a big enough backlog of entertainment already created to carry them through the next few months. People still love their favorite characters regardless if the studio is there, so their absence at Comic-Con won’t make or break them. The question is will there be other promotional opportunities without Comic-Con to create enough of a buzz to draw audiences to their new projects. 


Q: Talk a little about the Comic-Con brand and how it’s evolved over the past few years. 


Ferraro: The Comic-Con brand, like a shape-shifting superhero, has undergone a captivating evolution over the past few years, and it’s emerged from its humble origins as a niche gathering for comic book enthusiasts to a global celebration of all things geek. Its evolution can be attributed to several factors:  


  • The explosive growth of superhero movies and TV shows has transformed the brand to mainstream consciousness; 
  • The advent of social media and digital platforms has allowed fans to stay connected and engaged throughout the year; 
  • The event has expanded beyond the realm of comics and superheroes to a broader spectrum of popular culture; 
  • Comic-Con has embraced immersive experiences that go to great lengths to create interactive experiences, exclusive screenings, and unique activations that transport attendees into the worlds they adore.  

Gaffen: The brand has become a global spectacle and is now a mecca for pop culture. Everyone knows that Comic-Con is the place to be seen for both rising and established stars and it’s covered by People magazine as well as all the national and international news media. Nothing compares to the exposure you can get aside from the Oscars. The Comic-Con brand is recognized and trusted worldwide for the inside scoop on these genres. 


Any other thoughts you’d like to share?


Ferraro: Even with diminished sponsors, Comic-Con should still be a lot of fun to attend, if you can get a ticket!


Gaffen: I’ve attended six Comic-Con events since 2006 and it has given me the opportunity to be in the same room with Stan Lee, test new video games and be among the first in the world to see new content. I’ve seen Bryan Cranston sneak around the convention by wearing a mask of his own character from “Breaking Bad.” I’ve been fortunate enough to meet some famous people, like Alex Borstein and the rest of the cast of “Family Guy” (see picture below). I’ve had some once-in-a-lifetime experiences at Comic-Con International and am very grateful that it occurs in my backyard.