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After much debate, Phoenix Comicon has chosen to operate with paid staff, ditching a controversial volunteer-based model that would have required workers to pay dues to a nonprofit social club.
Late last year, Phoenix Comicon director Matt Solberg announced the for-profit pop culture gathering would use the nonprofit fan club Blue Ribbon Army to staff the convention, which would require volunteers working the event to pay BRA dues ranging from $20 to $100, depending on benefits. This sparked an uproar on social media that led to meetings after New Year’s with volunteers to discuss the paid-staff alternative.
Solberg sent out a press release this week announcing the convention would use paid staff going forward.
A little background for con-text: For-profit conventions like Phoenix Comicon are facing mounting pressure nationwide to change the way they staff their lucrative and growing operations. Emerald City Comicon in Seattle and Wizards of the Coast’s gaming events recently faced legal action for treating volunteers like employees but not paying them as such. A common workaround has been to use a nonprofit organization to manage volunteer staff; they often charge dues, but the event access and various other perks are usually seen as more than worth it to die-hard volunteers.
“Maintaining the status quo is not an option, no matter how much we all wish that it could be,” Solberg said in an email Jan. 5 announcing that he would look at alternatives to the BRA plan.
Fast-forward to today’s paid-staffing news: “While this was not the original decision as announced three weeks ago, nor was this the option selected by most of our volunteers, we do believe this is the best decision long term for our company and our conventions based on feedback and concerns raised,” Solberg said in the official announcement of paid — and likely reduced — convention staff. “It avoids further controversies as this industry changes, keeps us compliant with changing laws, and increases the professionalism and effectiveness of our team.”
“It avoids further controversies as this industry changes, keeps us compliant with changing laws, and increases the professionalism and effectiveness of our team.”
Solberg said the Blue Ribbon Army will maintain a relationship with Phoenix Comicon; the nonprofit’s activities include charity fundraisers. After the staffing controversy, he announced he would leave the BRA board and unwind his equity position, giving up his voting stake to avoid the appearance of conflict of interest.
Phoenix Comicon takes place Memorial Day weekend, May 25-28, at the Phoenix Convention Center and Hyatt Regency. Event passes are on sale now, and prices will go up Feb. 1.
Below is Solberg’s statement from today (Jan. 24):
Convention director and Square Egg Entertainment CEO Matt Solberg released the following statement today:
After much deliberation, we have decided to shift to an all paid staff in the operation of Phoenix Comicon and all events associated with Square Egg Entertainment, including Phoenix Fan Fest, Minnesota Fan Fest, and Keen Halloween.
There are many individuals who helped make Phoenix Comicon one of the best run conventions in the country. To them we owe our sincerest thanks and gratitude. We hope that many of those who assisted us will apply for the new paid positions as we announce them. In appreciation for everything you have done for us, those who served as volunteers in 2016 who are not selected for positions will receive two complimentary full event passes for Phoenix Comicon 2017 and 2018 as our gift.
We continue to support Blue Ribbon Army as a corporate member and through promotion of their group and activities. We look forward to what they can accomplish and are excited to be a part of it.
While this was not the original decision as announced three weeks ago, nor was this the option selected by most of our volunteers, we do believe this is the best decision long term for our company and our conventions based on feedback and concerns raised. It avoids further controversies as this industry changes, keeps us compliant with changing laws, and increases the professionalism and effectiveness of our team.
As this discussion consumed social media and news outlets over the past three weeks, we have continued to work behind-the-scenes on making our events for 2017 stellar. We look forward to sharing announcements on our upcoming guests and content at all our shows.
Phoenix Comicon will continue to thrive and be a source of joy for thousands of attendees this year and in future years.