Phoenix Comicon Requires Volunteers To Pay To Work

Phoenix Comicon Requires Volunteers To Pay To Work

*Note: We have been notified that an image of a pirate group from Arizona has been accidentally used by Facebook for the preview image. We would like to inform readers that this group is in no way involved in what is going on. The image intended for the preview link is the cover photo.

Phoenix Comicon is Arizona’s largest comic book convention and beloved by many. Hell, Phoenix Comicon was a major factor in me creating The Geek Lyfe! They feature a number of major celebrity guests, performers, artists, and cosplayers to entertainment their convention goers and give them that once in a lifetime chance to meet their favorite people. I look forward to all of their events including Fanfest and Keen Halloween in addition to Phoenix Comicon!

While so many people love these events, not everyone can afford the hefty price tag of $55 for the entire weekend which then gradually increases past February 1st leading up to $70+ when it gets closer to the event. Instead, folks volunteer their time and hard work for the convention to be able to spend time at the event. This is a common practice that helps both the convention with free labor and the convention goers by easing the financial burden of having to purchase a pass.

With 2017 right around the corner, Phoenix Comicon has began rolling out information about their guests and even changes to the event as a whole. Unfortunately, one change in particular has the community up in arms. Released on the official Blue Ribbon Army facebook page (which is a group associated with Phoenix Comicon fans) was this information:

If you are unfamiliar with what a 501c7 is, here is the definition:

What is a 501(c)(7) social organization?

Not all tax-exempt organizations are private foundations or public charities. Under Internal Revenue Code Section 501(c)(7), social clubs like fraternities and country clubs can be recognized as tax-exempt organizations.

What is a social club?

Generally, social clubs are membership organizations primarily supported by funds paid by their members.

They have turned their group, Blue Ribbon Army, legally into a social club, which is totally fine. The part of this that has everyone riled up was the information that from now on, in order to even have the opportunity to apply to volunteer for Phoenix Comicon, you must pay at least the basic membership fee of $20. This can be seen listed at the bottom of the membership benefits.

I can understand that they are first and foremost a business and the main goal of any business is to make a profit. Creating opportunites to bring in additional revenue is not normally something that should be frowned upon, however in this instance it is affecting dedicated fans. Fans who volunteer typically because they can not afford to purchase a pass. I know Phoenix Comicon volunteers personally, and they work themselves to the bone trying to make everyone they interact with have nothing short of an incredible experience in exchange for limited convention time.

Additional information regarding this was an email that was supposedly sent out by the head of Phoenix Comicon and the most recent facebook post in the BRA group which seems to be more edited version of the former.

The short version of these massive blocks of text is that there were staffing issues, such as having 500+ passes unaccounted for, that took place in previous years. Next, they observed how other conventions like Wizard World decayed in profit this past year or even Amazing Con got to the point of being shut down in both Arizona and Texas. To combat this, they believe it best to have the Blue Ribbon Army membership come into effect to help turn a profit to help with finances and institute more dedicated staff. If a person pays to be a member, they will show they care about the convention and will not take a badge without no effort.

The email also mentions a goal of reducing staff each year, however in this year, there were a number of issues that came from having an incredible increase in attendees. Conventions goers felt unsafe from the lack of security or it’s bag/costume checks and lines were wrapped around the building in 117 degree mid day weather. I am curious how an ever increasing attendance will be handled by a reduced staff made up of an exclusive group of “volunteers” who are Blue Ribbon Army members.

On a positive note, this displays their thoughts on the matter and the willingness to talk about concerns presented by their staff and fans alike. While there is a good deal of backlash from the community, we can only hope the owners of Phoenix Comicon have our best interests in mind. I’d like to take a moment to give our personal thanks to Jillian Squires, who was our contact multiple times over the years for press information. She was always wonderful to work with and we thank her so much for being so kind!

Obviously this information is limited and in an effort to present our readers with the facts, we have reached out to Phoenix Comicon with our questions in hopes they’ll be able to give their input on their fan’s ever growing concerns. When they do respond, we will update the article as soon as we can.


A press release about this went live:


Phoenix Comicon Convention Director, Matt Solberg has responded to our questions.

The Geek Lyfe: Since the announcement of the Blue Ribbon Army membership being required for applying to be a volunteer for Phoenix Comicon, a number of convention goers have been frustrated. Do you believe this is the absolute best decision for both the convention and its fans in terms of success? If so, why?

Matt Solberg: This is the best decision as it aligns us with an organization whose passion for our geek community is strong as well as its support of Phoenix Comicon.  The benefit to Phoenix Comicon of working with Blue Ribbon Army in this manner is it provides additional social engagement to our staff that we have been unable to provide for years, helps reduce and eliminate the number of those who claim badge and benefits without doing the work, provides a better framework for our staff that is important to us from a moral and legal standing, and will lead to an overall more dedicated staff for Phoenix Comicon.   We also seek to formalize our relationship with Blue Ribbon Army and assist in their efforts for promotion of their club, events, and memberships.

TGL: Since Amazing Arizona Comic Con was cancelled due to financial concerns, is this BRA membership decision a result of fearing for the financial state of Phoenix Comicon?

MS: No.  Phoenix Comicon is a vibrant, growing, profitable show.

TGL: Will the membership benefits continue for years to come or is there a potential for being a volunteer to become non-exclusive again?

MS: At this point all staffing will go through the Blue Ribbon Army.

TGL: In the year of 2016 Phoenix Comicon grew by roughly 25,000+ attendees compared to 2015 which led to lines of people waiting to purchase their passes in the Phoenix summer sun wrapped around the convention center. If 2017 also results in an immense growth in attendees, do you believe the reduction in staff might cause even more issues?

MS: The line issues we had on Friday of our 2016 show were not caused by staffing issues, but by network and database issues.  Those issues were solved on Friday and with larger crowds on Saturday and Sunday we had no line issues for registration.

TGL: Does this BRA membership benefit of being able to apply to be a volunteer extend to other events such as Fanfest and Keen Halloween?
MS: Yes it does.

TGL: What are the major benefits of having a BRA membership? Do you believe it will positively impact Phoenix Comicon and it’s attendees in the long run? If so, how?

MS: I refer you to check the Blue Ribbon Army website for the complete listing of benefits for each membership tier. I believe that the benefits of becoming a member of Blue Ribbon Army far outweigh its costs.

TGL: Feel free to also offer any sort of message to our readers if you’d like to address their concerns! Again we love you guys and want to hear your side of things so readers are informed with facts!

MS: While the broad overview of working with Blue Ribbon Army is simple, the devil, as they say, is in the details.  It is also a change from how we have operated, and I’m aware that while some are excited at this direction, others are not, either on principal or the financial obligation it requires.

UPDATE 1-5-2017

In an email sent out at 11:26AM MST on 1-5-2017 by Phoenix Comicon, Convention Director Matt Solberg has announced that he will step down from the board and will “unwind” is equity position. He will continue to remain as the Convention Director of Phoenix Comicon. Below is a screenshot of the section.

The resulting firestorm over this announcement has shown that the Blue Ribbon Army will not live up to its full potential with my direct involvement. Many of you were concerned over my involvement as an Equity and Board member and any perceived conflicts of interest. Therefore, effective immediately, I am resigning my position on the board and have begun the process of unwinding my equity position. This will place the power and voting rights of Blue Ribbon Army in the hands of Matt and Jen Hinds. Upon completion I will have no equity or voting stake within Blue Ribbon Army and will not be listed on any documents filed with the state, although Square Egg Entertainment remains a corporate member.

We would like to state that we absolutely love Phoenix Comicon and want them to succeed, but only if they do right by convention goers and their staff. We hope everything gets sorted in a way that helps Phoenix Comicon grow and keeps everyone safe and happy! This article is meant to inform readers of news with facts and never meant to slander anyone.


Chicano | Fighting/Writing for Diversity | DM since 08 | Anime Lover | Site: | | |

  • Concerned Congoer

    What seems to be ignored in a lot of this is that Matt Solberg is now the Director of the Blue Ribbon Army social club. This is proven by the official articles of incorporation available publicly on the AZ government website.

    It seems like a pretty big conflict of interest to claim your turning staffing over to a 3rd party, when you actually control both.

    December 29, 2016
    • Andrea

      Definite conflict of interest. It also does not address the sheer volume of cost those of us coming from out of state incur to volunteer our time to the Con. We already pay for gas or plane tickets, food, possible rental vehicles, rooms, parking, and any family that comes with us, plus the cost of any events, product, photographs, or autographs we purchase. It is extremely inviable to ask us to pay money into a group that provides NO benefit back to us for the OPPORTUNITY to volunteer. It is not even a guarantee that paying in will get you chosen, previous experience not withstanding, and if you do NOT get chosen, you do not get your $20 back. The lanyard and decals you get are already available via the BRA facebook group and at their table at Con, and the sheer cliquishness of the group has made MANY people already opt not to pay to join or stay in the group altogether.

      The conflict of interest is huge, as many people are stating this is becoming quid pro quo – Do This, Get That. Which is extortion, for one, and against every principle of every major company in this country. Many of us whom have worked Con for years will no longer be able to volunteer due to this change, and that will lose the Con MANY hardworking people and overall weaken, not strengthen, their staff.

      December 30, 2016
  • Con attendee

    Another thing that is not being factored in that along with the conflict of interest in the above comment, but Phoenix Comicon also owe a great deal of taxes to the point that there is a lien against them. This smacks of cash grab to get them out of a hole.

    December 29, 2016
  • I just know as guy who has done panels for Comicon for years i don’t plan on being involved anymore because of a bad hyperactive politically correct incident with BRA. They can still ask me, but no BRA for me.

    December 30, 2016
  • They already made volunteering as a panelist more difficult every year between imposing limits and then decommissioning the Facebook groups and expecting everyone to email each other even though without said groups we have almost no way of reaching out to others to recruit. If they expect me to pay $20 just to PUT UP with all that, they can forget it. Hopefully others will feel the same way (I guarantee they will lose the volunteer pool of teenage girls who do most of their anime/SuperWhoLock panels) and be so desperate to fill up their programming that they’ll realize this was a Bad Idea.

    December 30, 2016
  • Jenn Czep

    The main image in the link depicts my pirate flag. While I do believe that forcing volunteers to pay is an act of piracy I do not support it and I request the image be removed! Thank you!

    December 30, 2016
      • Jenn Czep

        I don’t blame you. No worries. Just to be clear though Captain Blackstrap does not support this behavior. Piracy is about freedom. ?

        December 30, 2016
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