Pros And Cons: Wizard World Lands in Indy

It’s the latest geek convention on which this city has cast its spell.
Sherry Seiwert, president of Downtown Indy, plans to go on a fact-finding mission to a comic-book store. “I just want to pop in there and ask how we can best serve those folks,” she says. “I would be very interested in getting their take on things.”

Why so solicitous of comics fans? Because thousands of them will descend upon the city this month for Wizard World: Indianapolis Comic Con, which rolls into the Indiana Convention Center on February 13. Despite its name, there’s nothing particularly magical about this assembly. It’s just a big, traveling comic con that this year added us to its circuit. But it’s part of a veritable Justice League of pop-culture confabs that suddenly want to call Indy home. After Comic Con comes Indiana Comic Con in March, the Pokemon National Championships in July, and in early August, an intimate little gathering known as Gen Con.

Of the many geek conventions nationally, Gen Con is king. And a quick glance at its attendance figures and balance sheet explains why so many conventions suddenly want to stop in the Circle City. Lisa Wallace, communications manager at Visit Indy, says the 2014 edition of the largest gaming convention in the U.S. drew 56,000 attendees and had an economic impact of $49 million. Only this year’s NRA convention was bigger, and it was a one-off. Gen Con is booked here every year through 2020.

These days, Gen Con pretty much takes over downtown, and local businesses such as Sun King Brewery line up to partner with it. But it’s not like any Tom, Dick, or Hodor can waltz into town and duplicate that, mostly because Gen Con’s success was decades in the making. The convention began in 1968 in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin (hence the “Gen” in its name), and then bumped around the Midwest before arriving in Indy in 2003. Here, it posted seven years of attendance in the high 20,000s (solid but not stellar) before exploding in the last five years. “It took hard work to get the show’s attendance number to 56,000,” says Jake Theis, senior marketing communications manager for the nerdy get-together. “I would caution any new convention to not expect massive overnight success.”

Still, Theis doesn’t doubt that shows like Wizard World will keep coming, drawn to Indy not by magic but by the siren song of cash. And there’s no question that the events are a win for downtown businesses—not to mention civilians, who get fresh batches of cosplayers to gawk at. For her part, Seiwert is excited about the trend. “It’s a great thing,” she says. “It gives downtown a different vibe. We should all be excited about it, even if you wouldn’t consider yourself a typical Comic Con visitor.”