What about props? Yes! Props are allowed, with certain restrictions.
One of the most frequently asked questions since our event last year is “Can we bring our props?” There has been much confusion about this particular topic, so we’re here to set the record straight.
In the immediate aftermath of our security incident, the Phoenix Convention Center restricted all props. Within twenty-four hours they provided greater clarity on what specific props they sought to restrict, and over the past nine months, we have met with the convention center regularly to provide a greater understanding of props and materials that has further improved the props that attendees can bring.
We understand the impact the initial total restriction had on our cosplayers and attendees and know that there are current restrictions that may impact our cosplaying attendees again this year. We know that props play a large role in the entertainment and enjoyment of Phoenix Comic Fest. In fact, many of our staff members and crew are cosplayers and some of them have been so for more than twenty years. You may recognize a few of our staff & crew as members of local costuming groups. We have been working with the Phoenix Convention Center to improve the cosplay experience for everyone and will continue to do so as we get closer to the event.
We have heard many suggestions on how to improve this process and have shared them with the Phoenix Convention Center. They maintain control over the policy and mandate to us what is and isn’t allowed. While we provide guidance and direction on cosplay, costumes, and props, the final prop policy is mandated by the Phoenix Convention Center.
Most props are now approved and allowed, with a few restrictions. Firearms, replica firearms, explosives, and bladed metal weapons are not allowed on-site. This mandate applies to staff, guests, attendees, and exhibitors. There is a complete list of allowed props and the updated prop policy on our website and we encourage to read it thoroughly. If you have questions about specific props, we have dedicated staff members available to answer your questions. Lori, Allison, and Jen have teamed up to answer incoming emails at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have a picture of your prop you can send with your question, that’s even better.
We continue adding approved props as we get updated information. From previously submitted questions, here is a partial list of approved props.
- Sonic Screwdrivers
- Ghostbusters Proton Pack
- Power Rangers Morpher
- Bows unstrung or loosely strung
- Arrows that are not removable from the quiver or have the tips removed
- Shields without sharp edges. Yes! They can be metal
- Lightweight bata made of foam, worbla, or light plastic
- Spikes, barbed-wire, or other accessories made of foam and without sharp edges
- Wolverine claws without sharp edges and not made of metal
- Swords without sharp edges and not made of metal
- Kingdom Hearts Keyblade dull, not made of metal
- Assassin Creed Hidden Blades dull, not made of metal
- Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device
We continue to work to make Phoenix Comic Fest enjoyable for everyone. We’ve made some great improvements and can’t wait for you to see. We look forward to showing you a great time!
Why Memorial Day Weekend?
Pricing. Plain and simple, it is much more affordable for us to hold our show over Memorial Day Weekend than earlier in the spring. The rental rates for the Phoenix Convention Center and room rates at downtown hotels are typically lower during Memorial Day Weekend than in the spring. Peak season for hotels and the convention center is winter and spring when our weather is gorgeous, and it brings in many out of town companies who hold conferences and events.
While we could shift to dates to when its cooler, we would be paying more for the facility and for hotel rooms. The cost of our membership passes and booths and tables for exhibitors would have to increase significantly to offset that cost. We strive to provide an affordable show and one of the ways we keep our pricing as low as possible is by holding our event over Memorial Day Weekend.
Over the years Phoenix Comic Fest has grown larger and taken over more and more of the convention center. We currently use the entirety of the north and west buildings. Finding available weekends when both buildings are free during peak times is not always possible. As the weather gets warmer (sometimes unbearably so), those available weekends are easier to get. When we balance all these factors, we find that Memorial Day Weekend is the best option.
What do you spend membership revenue on?
Why have your prices gone up this year?
Revenue generated by membership and exhibitor sales pays for all the expenses associated with the convention. Those expenses are significant and will dramatically increase in 2018.
Along with multiple street closures downtown, we rent the entirety of the Phoenix Convention Center (minus the South Building), and that pricing goes up every two years. We’ve been at the convention center for nine years, which means we are into our fifth pricing increase on the rent of the facility.
Given our size, number of attendees, and as a direct result of the security incident last year we are now required to have a security and enhanced screening apparatus in line with major annual sporting events, such as the Super Bowl or the NCAA Final Four. Those requirements have added additional expenses.
We’re proud that our early Full Event pricing in 2013 was $50 and four years later in 2017 it was only five dollars more at $55. That our early pricing was $80 this year is a jump from 2017 but allows us to invest in areas our attendees have asked for improvement. The limited price increase from 2013 to 2017 demonstrates our commitment to keep pricing affordable and only increase when necessary. Our Full Event credentials are $100 now, which compares with $65 last year and $60 in 2013.
In prior years we were run by a mostly volunteer staff. Regulations and higher profile of conventions like ours means we now pay all our crew who work our event and have full-time salaried staff who work year-round. Having a full-time staff comes with additional expenses such as the office space we work in.
We pay for travel, lodging, stipends, appearance fees, and missed guarantees on all our invited celebrities, comic book creators, authors, voice actors, and cosplay guests. This year we’re investing more money in bringing out more and bigger name guests in all categories than ever before. It’s not lost on us that the shows that bring out big-name celebrities that our attendees clamor for also charge more than we do for Full Event passes. We aim to strike a balance between being able to bring out the guests you all want to see and keeping our prices affordable (Ace Comicon in Glendale charged $95 for their 3- day full event pass and Emerald City Comicon in Seattle was $120 for their 4-day full event passes and sold out in hours).
We hire a decorator to set up our exhibitor hall with pipe and drape for booths and tables, chairs, carpet, stanchions for all other areas. We rent walkie-talkies so our staff can communicate easier onsite during the event. We lose a percentage of all sales due to credit card processing fees. We pay for electrical use and internet lines we need onsite. We rent audio visual equipment for all the programming rooms and set up video projection in the main ballrooms so everyone can hear and see the guests on stage. We print the program guide, purchase badges, wristbands, and over the years lanyards and badge holders. We’re required to pay for licenses for music to be played during our event. We also pay to promote the show, for programming supplies for events, and for the thousand other expenses, large and small, that are too many to list.
We strive to reduce expenses when we can, though sometimes those decisions aren’t popular. We eliminated lanyards, reduced carpet in the exhibitor hall, and shifted nighttime events out of the Sheraton and Renaissance in order to save money and keep our pricing low.
Phoenix Comic Fest does make a profit, and it needs to do so to continue to operate. We are not backed by any large corporation like some other conventions are, and if the convention loses money, it impacts our ability to hold Phoenix Comic Fest. We’ve always made efforts to reinvest revenue and profits into our company and our events by expanding our physical space, bringing out more guests and offering more programming, and by keeping a hold on raising our pricing until we absolutely have to. We know that not everyone will be able to afford a full event pass to attend, and we make sure that our single day pricing provides value for attendees.
When it comes to guests, how do you decide whom to invite?
How do you get the celebrities that you get for these conventions?
Most actors are represented by an agent or booking manager. Actors will sign a contract to attend that guarantees a set dollar amount against the sale of their photo op and autographs. These contracts always have an out for the actors to cancel a convention appearance without penalty, as no actor will put a convention appearance above their acting career. The actors or their booking managers set the guarantee, autograph, and photo op pricing. With multiple conventions each week all pitching for the same talent, there is great competition to book guests.
How we decide is a mix of who might be available during the time of our show, who we haven’t had, who our attendees request, and what the guarantee and autograph/photo op pricing is for an actor. It’s not simply, “We want ACTOR to attend” and we invite ACTOR and ACTOR attends. Scheduling conflicts is the number one reason why an actor is unable to attend our show. They are filming or having prior personal obligations.
The second reason why we don’t bring a certain guest, and one that is becoming more common for us, is that we deem certain actors to be too expensive in their guarantee or too high priced in their photo op or autograph pricing. We know our attendees and we know our market and what it can (and cannot) support. We learned the hard way after paying out ever higher guarantees over the past couple of years and seeing comments from our attendees on the ever-increasing pricing of actors. The only way for us to have bigger name actors is for attendees to purchase photo ops and autographs and for us to charge more for our memberships to offset any missed guarantees we have to pay. It’s a challenge.
There are actors we invite every year and it sometimes takes years before they’ll be available. We also get guests who fall into our lap and is the smoothest process. At some point, I’d like to say we will have every actor who is on the convention circuit at least once, but it may take years before the scheduling aligns to make it possible.
This year we did raise our membership pricing to allow us to invest in more and bigger name guests in all genres, and we’ve already announced more guests, and larger name guests, earlier than ever before. We feel we got the goods and we’re not done yet…
How about what happens with the celebrity guests! What do they do during their downtime between panels?
To best answer this question, we figured we’d go right to the source and ask our celebrity guests.
Seven-time Phoenix Comic Fest Guest Wil Wheaton says, “I work really hard at conventions to entertain and be present for every person I meet, so when I’m not on a panel or signing things, I find the most quiet place I can and try to recover as many hit points as possible.
Most cons, I make an effort (usually on the first day, before I’m tired) to walk the floor and pick up cool things from local artists that I need to have for reasons.”
Multi-show alum and frequent convention guest Jason David Frank says, “I never stop. I go on social media and connect with my fans. I answer and like their comments. I go through all their tags and make sure I like or comment. I also go LIVE on my social media, so that those fans that cannot attend the convention can feel like they are right there next to me, enjoying the convention as much as I do.”
Sounds like we need to keep an eye out for Wil’s shopping spree and perhaps a chance to photo bomb one of Jason’s live videos!
As organizers & fans, what’s the hardest thing to accomplish each year that is also the most rewarding?
Exceeding the expectations of our attendees is the hardest thing to accomplish each year, simply because the bar continues to get raised each year. There was a time when we could bring out a half-dozen celebrities and a dozen comic book creators and all was great. Those times are long gone.
Every year there are new events, new attractions, and new options for where individuals and families will spend their time and their money. We know there is a lot of competition out there and we have to bring fresh activities and guests each year.
Our job at exceeding expectations is more challenging when you consider that we also manage the requirements the facility places on us, specifically as it relates to what props are allowed (or not) and the amount of security we have in place. Changing times and changing policies are a large part of the obstacles we face in putting on a great show every year.
The most rewarding aspect as organizers are the small notes and comments we read about of a fan or attendee having a great time, sharing time with their family, meeting someone special that they develop a relationship with, meeting their favorite actor, or telling a creator what their work has meant to them over the years. Those seemingly small interactions we hear about are very fulfilling to us.
We as organizers build and create something that is greater than ourselves, we provide significant entertainment for thousands of families, we generate revenue and profits for hundreds of local vendors, artists, restaurants, and hotels that help them all make a living. We are mindful of our role within our community, both in Phoenix as well as within geek culture, and while we know we don’t always get it right, we strive to improve each year to allow all to discover their inner geek.
What is the biggest named guest that you guys have tried to book, but weren’t able to?
Patrick Stewart. We had him booked for our 2012 convention, announced his appearance, and then found he was unavailable three weeks prior to the show due to a filming commitment. It happens, as we all know, that an actor will book a film job that conflicts with a convention appearance. Their contracts allow them to cancel without penalty, as their acting careers should always take priority. But he’s the biggest name we almost came close to having. Sir Patrick Stewart does limited appearances so while we try each year, he remains busy filming and performing on stage, so it hasn’t happened, yet…
Was there ever a time you wish you hadn’t booked a guest?
All of our guests are wonderful, caring people who are organized, effective communicators, and who have never caused us any drama or heartache and… you’re so not buying this response, are you?
Honestly, we’re very fortunate that most of the guests we bring out are easy to work with and great in their interactions with fans. But it’s a numbers game, and over the years we’ve had over one thousand guests. We were bound to have a few mishaps. Sometimes they simply have a bad day or we all just are not getting along well.
Some guests go “missing” and cannot be found for an appearance. Others seem to make it a point to be late to every … single … panel … they are on. The best example, though, is the guest who asked us to provide volunteers to wait upwards of four hours for a dinner reservation at a “hot” local restaurant and to call when their party could be seated.
We love all our guests…we really, really do
What was the attendance at Phoenix Comicon 2017?
We decided not to publish our attendance in the immediate aftermath of our event as we wanted the focus to remain on the fact that no one was injured. We are all too aware of how close we came and that should people get harmed or killed, that would be the only number reported. We still maintain that the only number that really matters is zero. Zero people were hurt during the security incident.
That said, we can now say our unique attendance was 80,703 and our turnstile attendance over the weekend was 182,397. Both numbers were down from our 2016 high (-24% and -16% respectively). Accounting for this decline were two key factors: We reduced the number of complimentary passes we issued to local organizations by 13,000 and then we saw an equal reduction in our sales during the weekend of our show. The decline in sales was a direct result of the security incident and subsequent safety concerns, lines, and prop restrictions we faced. Despite the sale downturn, Phoenix Comicon (now Phoenix Comic Fest) remains a profitable event.
We may never achieve the same attendance as we did in 2016, and that is a-ok. Our focus for 2018 is on our attendee experience and many of the improvements we are making are to get everyone through redemption and security quickly and safely, to limit the time attendees spend outside in lines, and to reduce wait times for celebrity photo ops. We believe we have the goods and cannot wait to show you all a great time.