This post was originally produced for Forbes.
Twice a year, the streets of downtown Salt Lake City are overrun by princesses, storm troopers and superheroes of every variety. Salt Lake ComicCon reports that 120,000 people attended the last event. That it is profitable is surprise enough. That it serves the community may be the real surprise.
Precisely because of its success in Utah, organizers have faced a legal challenge from the organizers of the San Diego ComicCon events.
Controversy aside, Bryan Brandenburg, 58, co-founder and chief marketing officer of Salt Lake ComicCon, has strategically sought to use the event to build the community. Since its founding, the event has donated about $2 million of cash and in-kind donations–mostly in the form of tickets, but also including celebrity photos, signatures and experiences.
Watch my full interview with Brandenburg and Founder Dan Farr in the video player at the top of the article.
The hordes of aliens circulating with equally out of place residents of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros suggest an economic success. Brandenberg confirms that 2016 results included a $3 million gross profit on $7.5 million of revenue.
A love of the arts led Brandenburg to donate tickets to Ballet West so every employee there could attend.
Allison Tilton, a first soloist with Ballet West confirmed the gift, adding, “I think it speaks to how he wants to use the event as a community building environment.”
Superheroes and princesses create the potential for a partnership with Make-A-Wish Utah. CEO Jared Perry says, “Salt Lake Comic Con and the cosplay community have been very generous to Make-A-Wish Utah. We grant the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions to enrich the human experience with hope, strength and joy. Salt Lake Comic Con supports our mission through fundraising, event ticket donations and by providing special moments and one-of-a-kind experiences for our wish kids and their families.”
“To a child, there is nothing more magical than being surrounded by super heroes and princesses,” he adds.
Brandenburg, himself a veteran, has a passion for helping veterans, current members of the armed forces and first responders of all sorts. ComicCon provides a number of free and discounted tickets to these communities.
Fearing that first responders are only appreciated when they respond and thus become a hero to someone, Brandenburg says, “My heart goes out because it’s really, you know, in many cases, it’s a job that doesn’t get enough recognition for the contribution it makes to society.”
The breadth of organizations receiving support from ComicCon is extensive. The Utah Support Advocates for Recovery Awareness, commonly known by its acronym, USARA, is another example.
Executive Director Mary Jo McMillen, says that the organization, which supports people and families impacted by alcohol and drug addiction, has received 100 free tickets to each of the events for the past two years. ComicCon also sponsored the annual Recovery Day attended by 2,000 people.
“There is tremendous value to our non-profit organization when a business like SL Comic Con contributes to supporting our efforts to address the critical impact of substance use and addiction in our community. Bryan Brandenburg has personally extended the generosity of SL Comic Con to help support the people we serve so they can experience fun and entertainment on their road to recovery from addiction,” McMillan says.
Farr, the founder of ComicCon, says he proud of the way the event itself has helped bring the community together. He’s observed multi-generational families attending the event together. He sees it as a “huge benefit of connecting people in a way that they were not necessarily connected before.”
“It allows people to find common interests and common interests of people who gather in a big way,” he adds.
ComicCon’s addition to the greater Salt Lake City community does not solve or even salve all of its social problems, but it is not hard to see the benefits of bringing 120,000 people together for some wholesome fun that includes everyone from recovering addicts to first responders as special, honored guests.
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Devin is a journalist, author and corporate social responsibility speaker who calls himself a champion of social good. With a goal to help solve some of the world’s biggest problems by 2045, he focuses on telling the stories of those who are leading the way! Learn more at DevinThorpe.com!