New York Comic Con is bigger than ever, brings more than $100 million to NYC economy

Key Points
  • More than 250,000 tickets were sold for New York Comic Con this year.
  • ReedPop has expanded the convention to six other locations near the Javits Center including Madison Square Garden and the Hammerstein Ballroom to host the convention's more than 420 panels.
  • Comic conventions have exploded into the mainstream in the last few years, bolstering attendance rates not only in New York, but in San Diego, Chicago, Atlanta and Seattle.
Sarah Whitten

It's an unseasonably warm October morning, barely past 9 a.m. in New York City, and already there is a line stretching five blocks from the heart of the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center on 11th Avenue.

Captain America, the Joker, Wonder Woman, the Predator and Thor all stood in line, jockeying to be first to buy collectibles, get autographs and a chance to see their favorite actors on stage.

For the 13th year, the Javits Center has played host to New York Comic Con (NYCC), an annual event launched by ReedPop, an offshoot of event organizer Reed Exhibitions.

At least 250,000 people bought tickets to attend the four-day conference that closed Sunday, quite a bit more than the 12,000 attendees from the convention's first year, Mike Armstrong, event director at ReedPop, told CNBC.

"It's definitely our biggest year yet," Armstrong said. "We've grown steadily every year since 2006. We sell out of tickets very quickly, we sell out of booth space very quickly, we don't really have any more room for sponsorship so, we know that we have to continue growing outside of the Javits Center."

ReedPop has expanded the convention beyond the 840,000-square-foot exhibition space at the Javits Center to six other locations nearby, including Madison Square Garden and the Hammerstein Ballroom. The conference hosted more than 420 panel discussions on topics ranging from Superman's 80th anniversary to female writers of "Star Wars" novels and comics.

The convention is estimated to have brought in more than $100 million for New York, as attendees pay for hotel rooms, take public transportation and dine at restaurants, according to ReedPop. Armstrong declined to disclose the revenue expectations for this year's show, but he did say that most of the conference sold out, including some of its off-site events. Passes cost roughly $50 a day to attend the conference.

Comic conventions have exploded into the mainstream in the last few years, bolstering attendance rates not only in New York, but in San Diego, Chicago, Atlanta and Seattle.

San Diego is arguably the most well-known comic convention of the year, hosting hundreds of celebrities for panels, signings and meet-and-greets as well as being the go-to place for studios to release major news about movies, television shows and comics. But New York Comic Con is actually the biggest by attendance.

San Diego's infamous convention draws more than 130,000 people each year and is estimated to generate an economic impact of more than $140 million on the city. The only reason that number hasn't grown is because the convention organizers cannot fit any more attendees into the exhibition center.

The origin story

NYCC started in 2006 with one rented hall that could accommodate 10,000 in the Javits Center and 4,500 presold tickets. However, there was so much interest from fans that first year that fire marshals had to shut down the main exhibition hall due to overcrowding.

Realizing that the demand was there for a convention like this in New York, ReedPop quickly adapted and doubled its rental space in Javits center in 2007.

Initially, the convention had been held in the first half of the year, ahead of San Diego's massive convention in July. However, in 2010, scheduling conflicts forced ReedPop to hold its convention in October and merge with the New York Anime Festival.

This change bolstered attendance even more, as ReedPop was able to partner with studios and retailers looking to hype their Halloween content as well as new fall television shows and big holiday movies. A year later, New York Comic Con had more than 130,000 attendees, on par with that of San Diego. In 2014, NYCC surpassed San Diego to become the biggest event of its type in North America.

Now, more than a quarter of a million people turn out for the convention.

"Honestly, our favorite thing is just seeing people having a good time," Armstrong said. "The one thing on my bucket list every show is I have to go to one of the big panels at [Madison Square Garden] and when the cast of 'Walking Dead' or 'BBC's Doctor Who' are coming out, I turn around and I face the audience because I want to see their reaction to that."