There are sure to be more changes announced in the coming weeks as Phoenix Comicon restructures to combat protests over their volunteer staffing practices. This has set off a domino effect inside the organization and we have found out that as part of the coming changes Phoenix Comicon will no longer be offering passes to professionals. This email was recently received by our contributor, Douglas Monce, who had inquired into when the form would go live on the PHXCC website:
Good afternoon Mr. Monce,
Thank you for your patience on a reply. Unfortunately we won’t be able to continue offering professional registration as a service. It had become highly labor intensive and for 2017 we’re looking at a much smaller staff so we just aren’t able to keep doing it. I hope you’re still able to join us.
Please let us know if you have any additional questions. Thank you!
Phoenix Comicon Information Desk
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It has been a long standing tradition of conventions to recognize the contributions of professionals in the industry by providing them with a pro bono full weekend pass. To acquire this pass you have to submit your credentials and they are reviewed by the convention staff and then you are either approved or rejected. Professionals use these passes to network inside this artistic community at events that draw hundreds of thousands of attendees a year. Almost every convention in the nation provides this service, in fact Phoenix Comicon is about to become the only major convention that does not provide a pass of some kind to professionals.
Starting out as Phoenix Cactus Con back in 2002 with an attendance of 400 people paying $3.00 each to get in, Phoenix Comicon has been steadily growing ever since and, with a brief interruption, it now normally takes over the downtown area of Phoenix, AZ every Memorial Day Weekend. With that kind of explosive growth, growing pains would be expected, and it’s being seen not only at PHXCC but all over the convention world. San Diego Comic Con is outgrowing it’s home city. Wizard World is having money problems, Emerald City Comic Con and Wizards of the Coast are battling lawsuits over their staffing practices (ie use of volunteers), and there have been loud protests over Denver’s change in policy over weapons and costumes.
Phoenix Comicon is simply the most recent high profile convention to come up against these kinds of problems as they work to adapt at being one of the largest conventions in the US. This past month has been especially painful for the event as they tried to launch a new way of vetting staff members after a large number of volunteers were “showing up to collect badges without doing their promised work and that there was no way to prevent that from happening “under the existing structure.”” Under the new system volunteers would have to pay a yearly fee to join a non-profit organization (The Blue Ribbon Army) that worked in conjunction with the Directors of PHXCC, and their volunteer pool would then be drawn from those people.
The outcry was shockingly loud against the new structure. Although new to the convention world, there are examples of volunteers paying to work for an organization. In 2011 for example, the Kansas Humane Society started charging a one time $15 membership fee for volunteers to work for them. The fact that it was a yearly fee and that the directors of PHXCC were serving on the board of BRA (in fact Matt Solberg stated: “Within Blue Ribbon Army committees have been formed including one for Phoenix Comicon, which is set up in our exact organizational structure with our existing departments, teams, Director, Manager, Coordinator, and Event positions. The head of the committee is me and the directors of PHXCC remain the same.) set up a perfect storm to set forth accusations of greed and conflicts of interest. This was dealt with earlier this week when PHXCC decided that they would no longer use volunteers to staff the convention but would pay their staff and that those staff members now had to apply like any other temporary job for their status.
We reached out to Matt Solberg for comment on the professional passes and other changes coming to PHXCC and did not receive a response. One can only guess what it means for the 5th largest pop culture convention in the nation that they are now running overloaded and under staffed.