Okay, so it’s been about 48 hours since the proverbial shit hit the fan in regards to Universal FanCon, and I cannot think about anything else.
My entire Twitter timeline has been about #FanCon. Nearly every tweet has been another story about how #FanCon has fucked someone over.
The only break I’ve gotten from #FanCon is looking at pictures of Beyoncé at #BeyChella2. But even Queen Bey herself hasn’t been able to completely take my mind off of #FanCon.
I cannot stop thinking about it. So, I guess that means I have to write about it.
What was Universal FanCon?
For those of you who are blissfully unaware, Universal FanCon was supposed to be a convention dedicated to diversity and inclusion in geek/nerd spaces. This convention was supposed to center the most marginalized groups and give them the space to live their best nerdy lives.
It wasn’t going to be a small one, either: it was supposed to be held at the Baltimore Convention Center from April 27–29. Celebrity guests were advertised; vendors and exhibitors were supposed to be showcasing/selling their work; and an array of panelists and speakers were featured on the site.
It was basically going to be Blerd Twitter Heaven.
Except it didn’t happen.
On Friday, April 20, exactly one week before the first day of the convention, FanCon was abruptly postponed “until further notice.”
There was no specific date or reason given. It was just postponed “until further notice.”
If that’s not bad enough, everything that happened afterwards made everything much, much worse.
First of all, a lot of people tweeted that they found out the convention was postponed because their hotel abruptly canceled their reservations. One tweet from the @HyattConcierge account stated that the hotel had been notified by the convention organizers that event was cancelled.
Many would-be attendees began to tweet that they received an email from the FanCon organizers stating that the convention had been postponed. Many others began to tweet that they found out about the postponement through other people’s tweets.
At this point, there had been no official word from the #FanCon Twitter account. And there wouldn’t be one until 1:15 P.M. CST Friday afternoon.
It reads, “We see your tweets, messages & concerns. We will have a full update later today on the status of the convention. We realize the immense severity of the situation and our teams will be working to address everything as soon as possible. Thank you for your patience and understanding.”
At approximately 2:09 P.M. CST, they directly addressed the postponement, making the first real public statement on the matter.
It reads, “It is with a heavy heart that we must announce that FanCon has been postponed until further notice. We deeply apologize for the disappointment, anger and feelings of lost trust due to this decision. We are taking the steps to reschedule the convention & will provide an update.”
The account sent out several more tweets within that hour, ending with one that promised that they would “provide further details later today to address concerns and questions and provide insight into how and why this happened.”
By this point, everybody was losing their shit. And for a very good reason.
FanCon being postponed didn’t just ruin everyone’s good time: it messed with people’s money.
Where the money at??
Attendees, vendors, exhibitors, panelists and speakers had already shelled out thousands of dollars to attend FanCon. People had taken time off of work to attend. I saw several panelists and speakers tweet that they’d actually turned down paid gigs to attend FanCon.
And that’s not even the half of it.
In late 2016, the organizers for Universal FanCon created a KickStarter to raise $25,000 dollars for the convention. It sounds like a very ambitious goal until you learn that they actually raised more than twice that amount.
That KickStarter received $56,498 in donations raised by 1,187 backers.
I don’t know the exact amount of money they made in ticket sales, but I do know that nearly $57,000 is a shit ton of money.
If I were to venture a guess based off of the sheer number of people I saw tweeting about the hundreds of dollars they spent on tickets, merchandising and vendor’s fees, I’d say that the FanCon organizers have lost track of between $150K-$200K.
Which is. A shit ton. Of money.
Naturally, everyone wanted to know about the status of refunds for those who were planning to attend the convention. Because there’s no way that the organizers would just take all that money and not give it back, right? Surely they’d provide an update in a timely manner regarding what’s going to happen with the money.
Well, the “later today” — which was tweeted soon after 2 P.M. CST Friday afternoon — turned into about 9–11 hours later. I first saw the official statement on the FanCon website at around 12 A.M.
And the first thing I noticed was that they would not be issuing refunds.
“As indicated on our ticketing site, all sales are final. However, we will honor your tickets for the next FanCon event.”
No. Refunds. No refunds, because they would be honoring tickets “for the next FanCon event.”
Not gonna lie, the literal first words that came to my mind were “SUE THEY ASSES.”
Ethical/moral concerns aside, you legally cannot hold someone’s money hostage in that manner. “All sales are final” typically applies to if the customer is unable to attend for whatever reason, not if the the event itself is cancelled.
I feel like they were trying to exploit a loophole here: the event is “postponed” not cancelled, ya see? So, theoretically, they could just give the event a new date instead of having to return the money.
But that’s not going to happen, namely because it’s likely this event won’t be held at all. But also because the organizers changed their tune, sending emails to ticket holders that stated that they are working on refunds.
This email to ticket holders is just one of the many, many confusing aspects of the financial aspect to this situation. It’s bad enough the organizers are changing statements in real time, but you cannot mess with people’s money this way.
And what happened to the money, anyway? Where’d it go? Did it all go to the Baltimore Convention Center? I suppose that’s possible, isn’t it?That space would’ve cost around $250K at a minimum, right? Did they have a deal on the space? Were they making payments in installments? Otherwise, there’s no way they would’ve been able to afford it.
And then they had to pay for speakers, panelists, guests. And they had a bunch of hotel rooms reserved.
Also….what about this hotel situation? One of the organizers — who I will get to in a minute — tweeted that the hotel cancelled their bloc without notice. He tweeted that the hotel sent out their cancellation emails before the organizers could send out emails detailing the postponement.
But that’s . . . that’s not how that works. If an organization/convention is paying for a bloc of rooms, they had to have some sort of payment plan and contract, right? I can’t think of a contract that would allow such an abrupt cancellation of a bloc without very advanced notice.
The way I see it, the only reason the hotel would abruptly cancel the bloc is if FanCon had already missed both the originally scheduled payments and a grace period.
The more we tweeted about where the money had gone, the more confusing and suspicious this all became. Really, people needed the organizers to step up and start talking.
Except . . . well . . .
The organizers: y’all not good at this
FanCon was mostly made up of volunteers and “affiliates” who worked to help program and promote the convention, but there were four people who emerged as the prominent organizers of the event.
I feel kinda . . .weird about listing their actual names (their full names were listed on the FanCon site until the postponement.)
I’ll just list their Twitter handles. They were DarthGeekonius, the President/Executive Director; BigBabaRob, the Director of Operations; beauty_jackson, the Director of Entertainment Group; and JamieBroadnax, the Director of Community Outreach. Unfortunately, JamieBroadnax’s Twitter handle is her actual name.
When all hell broke loose, people promptly went to these accounts, hoping and waiting for tweets to make it make sense.
At the time I’m writing this . . . whatever this is, BigBabaRob has not tweeted any new information in regards to the postponement of FanCon. The last action on BigBabaRob’s account was a retweet of the original thread from the official FanCon account.
DarthGeekonius tweeted a six-tweet thread on the FanCon fiasco, stating that they found out that they didn’t have the funds to continue with the event. I wish I had screenshot his tweets, because he ended up deleting all of them but one.
In this tweet, DarthGeekonius states that “it’s all on me regardless,” and that people should “hate me instead.” Which . . . yeah, okay.
Yesterday, at around 12:11 P.M. CST, he tweeted about why he deleted the original mini thread, and stated that the organizers were working to fix things.
Earlier today, on Sunday, April 22, DarthGeekonius tweeted again, claiming that a lot of us were coming to our own conclusions, and that the organizers weren’t tweeting because they were busying themselves with making sure everyone got their money back. He also said that he wasn’t even supposed to be tweeting.
He deleted that outburst, but screenshots are a thing.
That’s probably the last we’re going to hear from DarthGeekonius for a while.
Beauty_jackson had actually tweeted that she resigned from FanCon — her tweet went out at 11:10 A.M CST. Friday morning.Throughout the day, beauty_jackson retweeted advice to people who were out money thanks to the postponement. She also tweeted that she “didn’t touch money.”
And that leaves Jamie Broadnax, who has taken the most heat out of all of the organizers thus far.
Jamie is the only one of these organizers I’ve had some experience with. I knew of beauty_jackson before now, but I didn’t follow her. I didn’t know DarthGeekonius or BigBabaRob. For me, Jamie is different.
Jamie Broadnax is currently the editor-in-chief of Black Girl Nerds, a platform that is dedicated to Black women in nerdy spaces, whether that be t.v., film, or videogames.
In the past couple of years, Black Girl Nerds has taken off, doing press junkets and set visits for major movie releases. Jamie has a lot of social capital and a huge following on Twitter. She has the biggest platform of all four of them.
I’ve been following Black Girl Nerds and Jamie Broadnax for a while. I’ve actually written an article for the site about “American Gods.”
I want my byline back, by the way.
On Saturday, Jamie released an official statement on blackgirlnerds.com regarding the FanCon. In her statement, Jamie wrote that she was “member” of FanCon, which is a big ass downgrade from the“co-founder” label that was in her Twitter bio.
Jamie’s job as Director of Community Outreach for the convention was to coordinate with affiliate groups and promote the convention. She also was, essentially, the public face of the convention.
Here’s where Jamie’s statement starts to go wonky: she said that, in her role as Director of Community Outreach, she never concerned herself with financial or legal matters of the convention. Never.
Jamie wrote that she didn’t know what was coming in or going out, money wise and that she found out that the convention was in dire straits financially two weeks ago.
“On April 3, a bomb was dropped on me about our finances. I was shocked that outstanding bills were not paid and that the likelihood of FanCon would be no longer,” Jamie wrote.
Which . . . girl . . .
If you follow me on Twitter, you know how I reacted to her statement.
There’s no way she had no idea of what was going on financially, especially not in her position as director of outreach.
You mean to tell me that she was a co-founder of this convention, participated in team meetings and was in charge of coordinating groups who wanted to act as affiliates for this convention and that she never once knew anything about the money? How, Sway??
That doesn’t make any sense to me. It’d be different if she said she only had a small idea of it. I’d understand her not knowing the entire scope of the problem. But to have no idea? None at all?
Even if she had no clue about the money coming in and going out of the convention, that begs the question of WHO DID?!
Who was in charge of the finances? Who kept the books? Who balanced the account? Who got the debit card? Who signed the checks? And, further more, why aren’t they saying anything?!
This ties directly into the fate of the money. If all of the organizers — at least the ones that have spoken so far — claim that they didn’t deal with the money and had no idea that the budget was so poorly balanced, who did? Where’d the money go? Where’s that statement?
Furthermore, what exactly do y’all to do next? Because . . .there’s going to be an “after FanCon,” isn’t there?
To be honest, I cannot even begin to grasp what’s going to happen because of this fiasco. The more I think about it, the more my head starts to hurt.
I know one of the immediate aftermaths is that no one trusts anything labeled “Universal FanCon” anymore. The mess really hurt a lot of people financially and emotionally.
I also know that the Black Girl Nerds brand is damaged permanently because its leader got herself involved with this catastrophe and then made it worse by being less than honest.
(I also know that any chances I ever had about really get my name out there in terms of writing about nerd shit is dead and buried. I really just sat up here and publicly called the EIC of a huge nerd culture site a liar. )
I also know that there is, miraculously, an upside to this: many of the people who have been assed out are pulling together meet ups in Baltimore to make the most of the situation.
And then there’s Black Heroes Matter, who tweeted that they’ve actually rented a space in the Wicomico Building in Baltimore to put together a PopUpCon for everyone affected.
This story is far from over. We’re going to be hearing about more statements, potential law suits, and even more financial fallout from FanCon.
More than that, the Blerd community on Twitter has been changed for forever.
I just wonder when I’m going to be able to stop thinking about it.
UPDATE: ShowClix is issuing refunds to ticket-holders, according to several tweets/email screenshots I saw in the FanCon hashtag whenever I searched “#FanCon refund.”
So far, it doesn’t look like the Kickstarter backers will be getting their money back. And the vendors haven’t heard anything either.
UPDATE: Who the hell is Thai Pham?
So, a few users have pointed out that the FanCon fiasco is very similar to another convention disaster — PrideCon, which was supposed to take place in 2016. PrideCon, much like FanCon, was an inaugural event that was focused on a marginalized community — us queer folk — in online videogaming spaces.
A KickStarter for the convention raised around $15,000.
Well, apparently, PrideCon was also cancelled on very short notice and did not give refunds out to be those who had already paid a crap ton of money.
PrideCon apparently owed the Hilton hotel they were hosting the convention in $30,000 that was due the very next day.
This is basically what just happened to everyone who was going to attend FanCon. This should be really weird . . . except it might not be.
See, PrideCon was being put on by a company called H8 M3 N0T Enterprises, the CEO of which was someone called Thai Pham. Thai Pham was the one who issued the official statement that PrideCon was cancelled and that there would be no refunds.
“It is with a heavy heart” . . . yeah, that sounds real familiar . . .
Now, I technically don’t know shit, so don’t take this as a fact, but these similarities might be because Thai Pham was listed as the Vice President of Convention Operations & Entertainment for FanCon.
And FanCon is apparently aware of how discomforting this all is, because they released a statement on their Facebook page in defense of Pham at 9:57 P.M. CST Sunday night.
(Now, see, they can make this post, but they can’t make one telling everybody where the money at.)
Anyway, this doesn’t necessarily have to mean that some illegal shit has gone down. Thai Pham could just have the worst luck ever. We could just take this all at face-value…
Except I can’t, because I don’t believe in coincidences and I also don’t trust anybody. I barely trust myself. This all feels too familiar to not be a pattern.
The more information I find out about FanCon, the less I can believe that this is actually happening in real life.