Phoenix Comicon Will Replace Volunteers With Paid Staff

By January 24, 2017

When Phoenix Comicon kicks off this Memorial Day Weekend in Arizona, it will no longer depend on volunteers. Instead, the convention will transition over to paid staff.

Matthew Solberg, the convention director for Comicon and the chief executive of Square Egg Entertainment, revealed the news Tuesday after weeks of contentious debate surrounding a plan that would require volunteers to register and pay dues to a club Solberg was an equity partner in.

The decision came after several meetings with volunteers and others, and actually goes against what many volunteers had said they wanted, according to Solberg.

“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.

“We hope that many of those who assisted us (as volunteers) will apply for the new paid positions as we announce them.”

Solberg didn’t say how many paid positions his company would create for Comicon, but his original plan was to have 1,260 volunteers help run the event, compared to 1,400 the year before. Although the convention has depended on volunteers since its inception, Solberg said he decided to take a different route after recent court actions frowned upon for-profit companies using volunteers at for-profit events like Comicon.

“When I started Phoenix Comicon, I simply followed the model that existed decades prior to me: Volunteers working for a for-profit company. That model is so prevalent within conventions and sporting events that it never occurred to me that there might be legal hurdles in operating in such a fashion.”

That left Comicon with two choices, Solberg said. Either replace the 1,400 volunteers with 420 paid staff members, or have volunteers come in from some outside group. Solberg initially chose the latter, asking potential volunteers to join a social club known as the Blue Ribbon Army.

Volunteers would have to buy a membership priced between $20 and $100 annually, which if 1,260 new people joined just to volunteer, would create at the minimum a $25,200 windfall for the organization.

What seemed to make matters worse was the fact that Solberg was an “equity member” of Blue Ribbon, a position he said he would resign from once it came to light.

“While this was not the original decision as announced three weeks ago, not 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.”

Phoenix Comicon has grown rapidly over recent years, from 430 attendees in 2002, to just over 106,000 lat year, according to the organization. At the basic membership rate of $55 (not including any other membership offers, including VIP packages), that creates revenue of at least $5.8 million for a single weekend.

Any volunteers who participated last year and are not offered a paid position this coming May won’t be left empty-handed, Solberg said. Instead, he is offering each non-hired volunteer two complimentary full event passes for Phoenix Comicon not just this year, but next year as well.

“As this discussion consumer 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.”

This year’s guest roster coming to the Phoenix Convention Center include Once Upon a Time‘s Sean Maguire, iZombie‘s David Anders and Mighty Morphin Power Rangers star Jason David Frank.

Single-day tickets start at $20 with VIP packages running as high as $250.

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Michael Hinman

Michael Hinman

Managing Editor at GeekNation
Michael began what has become nearly 19 years of entertainment reporting as the founder of SyFy Portal, which would become Airlock Alpha after he sold the SyFy brand to NBC Universal. He's based out of New York City where he is the editor of a Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper in the Bronx.
  • José Velarde

    Now if they can just manage them better they were managing the volunteers… it should improve the Con experience..