Phoenix Comicon Follow Up: Staff paying to be a part of show

It seems the geekdom has settled a bit with the news from Phoenix Comicon (PCC) last year, about volunteers aka staff now having to pay to work the show. After the eruption it caused all across the cyber-verse, I had written a post shortly after news broke. I received a bit of  backlash as one had referred to it as click bait, that is in no way true. I have been a passionate volunteer since 2006 at comic cons and started in 2014 with Phoenix Comicon, I was concerned. I was not a random site that wanted the hot story, I am passionate about volunteering and this is a big change for the comic con circuit. I will say for every negative their was a positive, such as being invited on to a fellow content creators Live Online Show to discuss the Phoenix Comicon business!

PCC definitely went out with a bang for 2016, and rang in the new year with many headlines. Since then, the Convention Director Matthew Solberg sent out an email about the firestorm, apologizing for the uproar with the “underestimated response” and explaining how things could have been done differently. Matthew was also holding small meetings the first weekend of the new year, to talk more in depth about the upcoming changes and answer any questions some might have.

“Let me start by apologizing for the rupture that has occurred in our community because of the announcement last week regarding the new requirement that volunteers be part of the newly-formed Blue Ribbon Army.  We did not expect this level of reaction.  That friends are unfriending others over this issue is anathema to the core values of both Phoenix Comicon and Blue Ribbon Army, which seek to provide opportunities for those of us in the geek community to celebrate our interests and meet others”

-Matthew Solberg
Convention Director, Phoenix Comicon

So what did I learn at this meeting as a possible volunteer for PCC?

Two options were considered: One of paid staff which would decrease their staff number drastically from going to unpaid volunteers to paid staff, which would most likely be minimum wage and out here in Arizona it is not much. Two the option of outsourcing staffing to the 501 C 7 Organization known as the Blue Ribbon Army (BRA). This seemed like the logical choice for the Convention Director and those involved in the decision making process. More so since the Group has been the unofficial fan club of PCC and being involved in the PCC community since 2014 and as Matthew mentioned “held close to their existing structure”.

There was a third option of a “hybrid model’ Having paid staff and volunteers, I don’t think this was considered at all, as it was either one or the other. This option did have a lot of red tape, hassle to implement and coming up with guidelines to differentiate between paid and volunteer. This I do give them props for tossing as the time and energy to get all that done can be focused elsewhere on having a great show for 2017 and beyond. 

PCC and BRA are two separate entities: Square Egg Entertainment is the Parent company of Phoenix Comicon and Blue Ribbon army is a 501 C 7 Nonprofit Social Club. Due to the feedback Matthew had from being a board member on BRA he has since then stepped down as a board member although remains a paid equity member. This also limits some of his decision making abilities in regards to PCC staffing should they choose to outsource with BRA. The fees that are associated with BRA are to meet the needs of the organization and the organization alone. These dues will reflect what they plan to do with its members yearly, or other community events such as fundraising. It is not a group solely made to staff PCC.

The benefits you receive from BRA are separate from those you would receive from PCC as staff. This meaning when you pay which ever tier due, you receive the benefits coming from BRA and should you choose to be staff for PCC, you will receive whatever benefits they decide to give staff the year of.  

Introductory rate: The now infamous 20 dollar rate may not be the set price for long, and come 2018 this price could change as the mandatory due for the organization should you just want to be involved with PCC. This was an introductory rate for new member, for lack of better terms get your feet wet with the group. There are two other tiers of $40 and $100, the $20 is the lowest due (at this time) and is considered an introductory rate. There is again no guarantee it will stay the same as the dues are set for the needs of the organization.

Approval for volunteering: If you already volunteer with PCC, paying the $20 or any tier you choose, you are already considered staff and deemed qualified to do your said job that you have been doing. It was unclear at the time for those that are choosing to volunteer for the first time how they would be “approved” or deemed as qualified for staffing or when they would know they are approved. I reached out to one of the BRA board members/PCC volunteer who was in attendance at the meeting and have not heard back from them as of yet. I gathered the following from there website that specifies the process.

"Does joining Blue Ribbon Army guarantee me a staff Position with Phoenix Comicon?
No. Every candidate who applies for a staff role with Phoenix Comicon will be interviewed by the supervisor of that role and must meet the qualifications for the position to be selected". -BRA Website

Public Information & Fine Print: BRA does have the bi laws and constitution set forth for their recent status of 501 C 7 and will have them available to the public soon. This goes with the IRS and Money input that is required to be made public quarterly however BRA is choosing to do it monthly, and will be available within a couple months as they are getting things set up. A concern that is usually asked about non profits is salaries, as the money comes in there are times it mostly goes to salaries. The answer from a BRA board member was present at the time was NO, no money will be going to salaries.

Options seem to be back on the table, the paid staffing and the outsourcing of staff to the organization. PCC will be hosting there first All Hands Volunteer meeting January 14 2017, in which they will discuss with the other numerous volunteers the pros and cons to each option. You do not need to be a member of BRA yet to attend the meetings. Shortly after a final decision will be made on how to proceed with staffing for PCC, ultimately it will be up to Square Egg Entertainment, the parent Company of PCC. 

Watch the Video talking about all things comic con including Phoenix Comicon, from the awesome host Leonard Sultana of An Englishmen In San Diego.

Read Matthew Solberg's full letter here that goes more in depth about the options and the matters of the underestimated response. 

Visit the Blue Ribbon Army website for more information regarding tiers and benefits.

What do you think? Should they outsource to the organization or go paid staff? Let me know in the comments below or on Social Media.

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