Could Coronavirus Impact Comic-Con? TV Studios Keeping Eye on Outbreak

Coronavirus Comic-Con Cancelled

San Diego Comic-Con organizers and the studios that showcase their TV series and stars at the annual fan event are monitoring the evolving coronavirus outbreak, before possibly altering any plans for this summer’s gathering.

TVLine has spoken to executives at several major Hollywood studios who confirmed they are monitoring the situation closely and are not ruling out the possibility of pulling out of the fan convention, although a final decision likely won’t come down until spring. This year’s San Diego Comic-Con is scheduled to be held five months from now, from Thursday, July 23 to Sunday, July 26.

“There’s obviously concern,” said one unnamed exec at a major studio. “For now we’re taking a wait-and-see approach.”

A second studio exec who also requested anonymity noted that Comic-Con is still five months away and the coronavirus’ Stateside impact remains largely unknown. As a result, it’s “too soon” to speculate about any potential SDCC strategy shift. Yet another exec echoed that POV, saying: “It’d be irresponsible for us to not be thinking about it. But it’s too soon to press the panic button.”

In a statement to TVLine, a spokesperson for Comic-Con said that the organization “is working with local officials as it pertains to the COVID-19 situation and continues to monitor developments closely.”

The coronavirus as of Feb. 25 has spread throughout China and to 31 other countries/territories, resulting in more than 80,000 total cases and nearly 3,000 deaths from COVID-19 (the disease caused by said virus). And now, the number of new reported cases outside of China are outpacing those within. In the U.S., more than 50 cases — many of which are patients repatriated from high-risk locations — have been diagnosed. “It’s not so much of a question of if this will [spread in the U.S.] anymore but rather more of a question of exactly when,” Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said in a Tuesday briefing.

President Donald Trump, who has asked the U.S. Congress for $1.25 billion in new funds to manage the outbreak, is holding a press conference on Wednesday evening to address the nation’s coronavirus concerns.

The NCIRD’s Messonnier has suggested that cities and towns prepare to employ “social distancing measures,” including the cancellation of large conferences. San Diego Comic-Con holds the Guinness World Record for being the largest annual pop culture festival in the world, with last year’s event drawing an estimated 135,000 attendees from over 80 countries (plus more than 2,500 media personnel from over 30 countries).

SDCC is also big business for San Diego, last year generating an estimated $149 million in regional impact to the city. A spokesperson for the San Diego Tourism Authority tells TVLine that at this early stage, “there are still too many unknown factors with coronavirus to determine how/if it will affect visitation.” (Hotels do not begin accepting reservations for the famously busy weekend until April.)

Earlier this month, the Mobile World Congress phone show, which was to be held this week and typically draws 100,000-plus to Barcelona, Spain, was cancelled due to “the global concern regarding the coronavirus outbreak. Similarly, Sony pulled out of Pax East, a popular gaming convention in Boston that draws more than 50,000 people and runs Feb. 27 through March 1.

Convening inside the San Diego Convention Center and nearby satellite locations, San Diego Comic-Con attendees spend much of their time shoulder to shoulder in queue for panels, packed into ballrooms that fit as many as 6,500 people, or barely squeezing past one another inside the Exhibit Hall. As such, it is not at all uncommon (almost expected, really) for someone to come away from the well-attended event with some version of what has been dubbed “con crud” (aka any cold/flu-like illness).

Factor in TV, film, comic book and other stars’ in-person contact — via assembly line-like photo ops, handshakes and hugs — with hundreds of fans, and you have a veritable 600,000-sq. ft. Petri dish that no amount of Purel can keep in check.

Or as longtime Comic-Con attendee/participant Bryan Fuller puts it, with a shrug, “Honestly, I always assume there are health risks in attending SDCC.”

Follow TVLine on Twitter for the latest updates on this summer’s Comic-Con.

GET MORE: Comic-Con, Controversy