At 3:09 PM EST today, Friday, April 20th, 2018 Universal FanCon announced via their Twitter that their much-anticipated fan convention set to premiere at the Baltimore Convention Center next week, April 27-29, will be postponed.
With just a week left until the convention, this left many of their attendees, creators, and guests bereft. Most attendees found out through their hotels, who emailed their guests to inform them that their reservation was canceled, without a refund, hours before FanCon’s official tweet, one source cites receiving the email at 11:13 AM EST.
My hotel through Hyatt was cancelled by the event due to "cancellation." No official word from @UniversalFanCon. I have a non-refundable flight from Seattle and I passed on a serious networking opportunity for this. This is a garbage fire and a POOR WAY TO HANDLE MATTERS!
— Just Find Some Good (@JFSGood) April 20, 2018
While others, who had originally backed the convention through their Kickstarter campaign, received an email informing them that the event would be postponed.
Here's the Universal Fan Con email that I received today. pic.twitter.com/33AfrIxYqY
— Barbarella (@youthinkmemad) April 20, 2018
Some of these Kickstarter emails batches exposed their backers’ personal contact information through a CC email blast instead of a BCC one.
— elmtree (@elmtree916) April 20, 2018
While even more simply had to find out through friends and social media and gather together what information they could in order to proceed with their travel plans.
— Black Girl Gamers (@blackgirlgamers) April 20, 2018
Some background on Universal FanCon: Originally started on Kickstarter, Universal FanCon was supposed to be the “First multi-fandom Con dedicated to inclusion, highlighting Women, LGBTQ, the Disabled, and Persons of Color.” Founded by a team that consisted of Jamie Broadnax of Black Girl Nerds and Robert Butler of The Black Geeks, the Kickstarter started off with the goal of $25,000. Backers could donate anywhere from $1 to $5,000 or more, with the most donating $35. Each pledge level offered different backer packages from commemorative programs at the $1 level to a weekend pass, a photo op with a celebrity guest at the $35 level to a sponsored suite at a hotel, full backstage access, and the VIP experience at the $5,000 level.
Although the project was ambitious, it was supported overwhelmingly by a community starved for exactly what FanCon was offering. 1,187 backers pledged $56,498 to bring the dream to life. With the project funded, FanCon announced to their backers that they would all be original backers who would receive a lifetime membership to their future events.
“ALL ORIGINAL BACKERS will receive a LIFETIME MEMBERSHIP to Universal Fan Con when they attend the Con. That means, if you attend UFC in April of 2018, when you go to registration and pick up your badge, you will also receive a Lifetime Membership Card. This means that beginning in 2019 and beyond, you will receive FREE ADMISSION TO UFC FOR LIFE! It’s real simple, show up the first year, all subsequent years are free!”
As the date was set for April 27-29th, 2018 at the Baltimore Convention Center, FanCon started selling event tickets, announcing guests, and generally gaining traction for their event. However, with the sudden news of postponement this afternoon, we’re left to wonder what exactly went wrong?
As of the original publishing of this article, FanCon has not put out an official statement so we are left to put together a rough timeline of events.
[UPDATE] At around midnight EST on April 20, 2018, FanCon has issued a statement and FAQ on their website.
Just two days before this postponement, tickets and rooms were still available. With creators of the convention promoting the event and to fill the convention center. However, invited guests of the convention seemed to be hearing a different story. As writer Jeremy Whitley tweeted his timeline of events today, there seemed to be confusion behind the scenes in regards to booking. Whitley details that one of the partners invited him to the convention and he signed a contract to be a part of the show, which included a covered flight and hotel room with reservations received at least 30 days out. With radio silence for about a week, Whitley was informed before the Kickstarter emails went out by the person who invited him that it was postponed and “they didn’t know anything was wrong until today.”
I've done a lot of show in the past two months, so it wasn't until after Awesomecon two weeks ago that I realized I hadn't gotten flight info. So I emailed. I was assured everything was cool and they'd get it booked. A week ago it still hadn't happened
— Jeremy Whitley, Agent of G.I.R.L. (@jrome58) April 20, 2018
Whitley then further went on to tweet the situation that many attendees would be suffering through. A lack of communication. The official website and social media accounts had not been updated and information was mostly word-of-mouth.
And I'm still finding out from my friends who paid for tables are only finding out secondhand from me. Last I checked FanCons site, Twitter, and Facebook had not been updated. Let me say again, this was supposed to happen next week.
— Jeremy Whitley, Agent of G.I.R.L. (@jrome58) April 20, 2018
And to follow that up, after contacting the Baltimore Convention Center through Graphic Policy, Whitley was informed that the convention center had not received an official cancellation and removed the event information from their website to prevent confusion.
The convention center said they STILL have not received official cancellation for the show and only took it off their site because there was a lot of confusion. They then asked @graphicpolicy where he was getting all this information!??!?!
— Jeremy Whitley, Agent of G.I.R.L. (@jrome58) April 20, 2018
Then, earlier this afternoon at 12:10 PM EST one of FanCon’s employees, Melanie Dione, publicly resigned on Twitter, although we can’t confirm if there is a direct connection between Dione’s resignation and the postponement of the event.
Earlier this morning I submitted my letter of resignation to Universal FanCon.
— Melanie Dione (@themelaniedione) April 20, 2018
At 4:39 PM EST, Robert Butler, co-founder of FanCon tweeted some clarity for the attendees. Saying that, “Logistically, it wasn’t working at this time.” He said that they “didn’t get a chance to confirm next steps, notify guests, and partners staff, volunteers, fans, anyone. The hotel was told our plans and without warning, notification, or anything decided to cancel everything and email everyone.” As of the morning of Saturday, April 21st, Robert (@DarthGeekonius) has deleted the twitter thread. We screenshot the thread at the time.
At 5:28 PM EST, co-founder Jamie Broadnax tweeted to her followers regarding the event postponement.
Thanks everyone for the overwhelming DMs and emails of support. This is a tough day and while the details will be disclosed soon about #FanCon, just know I’m always transparent about who I am and what I represent in this community. Huggz to the supporters out there 🤗
— Jamie Broadnax (@JamieBroadnax) April 20, 2018
Despite these update tweets from the founders of the event, FanCon has offered little clarity or transparency about what exactly caused the postponement of the event. Was it a financial reason? Was it a booking issue? Was it something to do with the convention and hotel legal contracts? One thing is very clear, supporters and backers of the convention are demanding answers.
However, in spite of the non-refundable plane tickets, booked vacation days, and broken hearts, the fans have pulled together. People are giving signal boosts to independent artists, creating a digital artist alley for vendors who were planning to sell their products during the convention, organizing meet-ups, or simply offering advice on what to do if you’re a vendor facing a convention cancellation.
#fancon fam! Are you an artist/writer/vendor who was planning to sell your kick ass goods at FanCon? We’re putting together a list so friends and fam can support! Sign up here and please RT! #fanconassemble https://t.co/CgOzGL7Xqt
— kat calvin (@KatCalvinLA) April 20, 2018
We saw the email from @UniversalFanCon. Not all hope is lost. Our flights are non-refundable, venue space is available, and we want to hang with all the #Killjoys & #TheMagicians fans. Who is down to make something special happen with us in Baltimore? #FanConAssemble pic.twitter.com/JrTXJcwuTW
— Lo Mo Pro (@Lo_Mo_Pro) April 20, 2018
ATTENTION: if you are an artist or exhibitor who had planned to attend #FanCon & unable to rearrange your travel arrangements, please contact us. We are working feverishly with our friends at @BHMatter to secure a venue for a pop-up next weekend. Our DMs are open.
— The Nerds of Color (@TheNerdsofColor) April 20, 2018
On our part, we look forward to interviewing panelists, artists, creators, and exhibitors about their work! If you were planning on attending and presenting your work at Fancon, drop us a Twitter DM or email (nerdophiles[at]gmail.com) and we would love to talk to you!
Update #1 Saturday, April 21, 2018, 1:06 AM EST: Universal Fancon released their official statement around midnight EST with an FAQ attached. They cite financial deficit as the main proponent as to why they can not continue operations at this time. They are not currently considering this a cancellation, and because of this, all tickets that have been purchased are still final sale. Since this is still a postponement, there will still be a future Fancon that has yet to be scheduled. Although there will not be an event next week, there is still an Infinity War screening that is still available to attend. Those with packages delivered to hotels should email info[at]universalfancon.com. Those who are still coming to Baltimore should look out for answers from Universal Fancon by April 25th for updates on alternate plans.
Update #2 Saturday, April 21, 2018 3:15 PM EST: Over the night, the Universal Fancon FAQ has been updated and much of the verbiage has been changed.
I took the first screenshot at 11:20 to use in this thread, where it says they meant to inform us of everything “the morning of April 19th.” It now reads “the morning of April 20th.”
#Fancon. Fam. Just stop, y’all. pic.twitter.com/jyk1Jq0RSx
— shuri’s lab assistant (@heycheyennehey) April 21, 2018
— valerie complex (@ValerieComplex) April 21, 2018
There has also been accusations and rumors concerning potential scamming. Although these haven’t been confirmed officially, one investigator on Twitter has uncovered connections between FanCon’s Vice President of Conventions Operations and Entertainment, Thai Pham, with a history of Kickstarter convention scams. These previous conventions include PrideCon, which was canceled two days prior to the event and offered a similar “$2,000 ‘lifetime’ pass to the convention.”
So, Thai Pham who was until today listed as VP of Conventions Operation and Entertainment on the #FanCon site actually has a history of running kickstarters for cons that never happen.
— Jaz (@jazmine_joyner) April 21, 2018
As of Saturday, April 21, 9:54 AM EST, Philadelphia Comic Con has offered to accept FanCon tickets to attend their convention happening the same weekend. “Any Ticketholder from Universal Fan Con is welcome to attend our show Friday, April 27th, 2018 for FREE. Should Friday not work for them, we are willing to give 50% off a Sunday Pass for April 29th, 2018.” Make note that you may either go Friday or Sunday. Philadelphia is about two hours northeast of Baltimore by car and about an hour by train.
Yesterday was a disappointing day for many in our unique fandom. It is our hope that @UniversalFanCon will have a future should its fans want it to. But in the present we hope the below letter, and offer in it, can help ease the pain of this unfortunate situation. #GetURGeekOn! pic.twitter.com/5YeCsTVozS
— Philly Comic Con! (@PHLCC) April 21, 2018
On Saturday, April 21,12:43 PM EST, Universal Fan Con sent out an email to all attendees regarding the postponement. This email detailed that that are working to refund the money to their guests. Before this, those who were not active on social media or a part of their original Kickstarter had not received any official contact regarding postponement via email.
— LaBlaq, the final Fantastic. (@LoveAndShalom) April 21, 2018
Correction April 21, 2018, 4:43 PM EST: A previous version of this article listed Robert Butler simply as “a co-founder”, this has been clarified and corrected.
Update #3 April 21, 2018, 5:10 PM EST: On Saturday, April 21, at 4:48 PM EST, co-founder Jamie Broadnax released an official statement published on Black Girl Nerds.
In lieu of posting a screenshot statement, as a matter of accessibility, I’m linking this full statement which I know will not remedy what has been done, but will hopefully be a step in rebuilding trust
Jamie Broadnax Statement on Universal Fan Con https://t.co/KLj5ZGzK5o
— Jamie Broadnax (@JamieBroadnax) April 21, 2018
Within her statement, she disclosed that her role within Universal FanCon was to be a public facing liaison as the Director of Community Outreach.
“I lent my brand Black Girl Nerds and invested my social capital into the mix which allowed for a large network of nerds and geeks to be exposed to this new event. I also leveraged my relationships with brands, studios, and celebrities to get them onboard and co-sign on this fan convention.”
However, Broadnax also states that she did not involve herself with financial or legal matters. “To be frank — I didn’t know what was coming in nor what was going out. I didn’t sign any contracts.” She also stated that on April 3rd, she was informed that Fan Con had outstanding bills that were not paid and “the likelihood of FanCon would be no longer.” The Affiliates team then went on to discuss an emergency Go Fund Me and a video by Broadnax to inform fans of their need for funds.
“I had a secondary meeting with the FanCon board and we decided rather than putting the onus on fans and asking for money which we already did during the Kickstarter, I agreed that we should try to find ways to scale down the size of the space and try to defray costs. I also worked with a sponsor at the last minute to help us out that provided a generous donation that I thought would have us in a better position.”
Despite their efforts, Broadnax states that on April 19th:
“I found out that we owed more money and that there was no way to run this con with the debt that was owed. I called the team myself and requested an emergency board meeting to discuss what we need to do and what went wrong. As it turns out there was a balloon budget that would make it impossible to run this convention by Friday, April 27. I was sick to my stomach, devastated and I’m still in shock by all of this because at the time I thought FanCon was okay. I had a press coverage meeting with my team a few days before and I was prepping my schedule as to what we plan to cover at the event. I was completely blindsided by this news and frankly still don’t understand what happened.
I owed more due diligence to the community and I did not know what was happening behind the scenes in terms of contracts and financials. I made assumptions that I thought were okay and that’s not how you run a business. I put my faith into others who were subject matter experts in various areas and assumed that everything was a well-oiled machine. I put my personal name and brand of Black Girl Nerds on Universal Fan Con knowing this would be a success and would help more Black women, fans of color, and so many marginalized groups get the opportunity to have a platform where they can see themselves reflected and feel represented.”
On Saturday, April 21, at 4:52 PM EST, Black Heroes Matter announced on Twitter that they had secured a venue for a PopUpCon Saturday, April 28th, 2018. Follow their twitter and their hashtag #WICOMICON for more information!
We've secured a massive space for an all day PopUpCon – Saturday 4/28! Location is the Wicomico Building – about a mile from the ConventionCenter. We've dubbed it #WICOMICON & are opening our doors to any vendors negatively affected by the FanCon fiasco. It's on! Spread the word! pic.twitter.com/Zc8iLAfhUh
— 𝗕𝗹𝗮𝗰𝗸 𝗛𝗲𝗿𝗼𝗲𝘀 𝗠𝗮𝘁𝘁𝗲𝗿 ® (@BHMatter) April 21, 2018
Update #4 April 21, 2018, 7:02 PM EST: On Saturday, April 21, at 2:55 PM EST, Nerds of Prey issued an official statement regarding Universal Fan Con. Nerds of Prey were affiliates of Fan Con that signed on to be affiliated shortly after the end of the Kickstarter campaign.
Nerds of Prey’s Official Statement Regarding Universal FanCon https://t.co/XLhFtYwbgc
— Nerds of Prey (@nerdsofpreycast) April 21, 2018
Their role was to “generate awareness and promote the con.” As the date to the convention approached, they state:
“When details surrounding certain affiliate amenities grew unclear, we became concerned with the general lack of communication to those of us involved. In addition, this impacted our ability to travel to Baltimore and attend the event, full stop. With all this in mind, the decision was made to sever ties. We officially ended our affiliation status on April 4th, 2018. At no point were we aware of the depth of potential financial mismanagement.”
You can find their whole statement on their website.
They also announced at 6:06 PM EST that they had left the organization on the morning of April 4th.
No, we did not. We emailed Robert Butler the morning of April 4th, and left the organization to announce as necessary since we were affiliated – not sponsors. We wish in retrospect we had, if only to help and inform our listeners. Thank you – SM https://t.co/JS1RJ9TGkQ
— Nerds of Prey (@nerdsofpreycast) April 21, 2018
Correction April 22, 2018, 5:51 PM EST: A previous version of this article incorrectly linked Thai Pham to Akihabara Expo and Pride Con when he was not involved with the former.
Update #5 April 22, 2018, 6:02 PM EST: As of Saturday, April 21st at 10:02 PM EST (email is listed in PST), FanCon vendors and artists have officially received emails that inform them that FanCon has been postponed.
“We are writing to inform you that Universal FanCon has been postponed and we are working diligently to come up with the next steps. We did not make this decision lightly. We understand the commitment you made to attend this event and we apologize for the inconvenience this decision may cause.
Of particular concern, is how we honor your commitment to us. Therefore, though there have been missteps in communication, and errors on our part, we are working to refund the money you have invested in us.”
— Valentine Barker @ Awesome Con C-12 (@chalkyheart) April 22, 2018
As of Sunday, April 22nd at 9:34 AM EST, the Baltimore Science Fiction Society, sponsors of the upcoming Balticon, are offering a social event for FanCon registrants. For those looking for more information on this, please visit their website.
“On Friday, April 27, 2018 we will host an impromptu social for Universal Fan Con registrants from 6:00pm till 9:00pm (or when folks want to leave) at the BSFS Building. Further Universal Fan Con registrants in Baltimore for the weekend are also invited to our Anime Social, Book Discussion and general Social Meeting on Saturday, April 28th and the Tabletop Role-Playing Game Event on April 29th all at the BSFS Building. Check our website at www.bsfs.org for details and directions.” (Source)
Also, Balticon is offering discounts on membership for their event held May 25th to May 28th, 2018.
“We can not change the online registration program at this late date, but anyone showing up at Balticon and buying a membership at the door will receive a 30% discount off the membership if they show printed proof they were registered at Universal Fan Con. Proof can be a receipt from Universal Fan Con, or a credit card statement showing payment etc…”
Additionally, Balticon is offering dealers, vendors, artists, and panelists an opportunity to showcase their work at a discounted rate. Further information can be found on their Facebook post or at their website.
Further, although we have the same number of dealers tables already sold as last year’s Balticon the dealers room…
As of Sunday, April 22nd at 12:40 PM EST, FanCon co-founder Robert Butler tweeted:
“You don’t know me You keep drawing your own conclusions The reason I haven’t been saying anything on social media is because we’ve been working to make sure everyone gets every red cent back. We are working on solutions not trying to drag people, point fingers, or save our names.
I don’t care what is said about me. Only thing I ever cared about was making this event a reality. This shit blew up and those of us you’re accusing of “running” have been figuring out how to get everybody their money back and still give those stranded something to do.
Many who know me and know what I’m about in real life know what’s really good and I’ve personally asked them not to say anything because it’s not proper to split into camps and drag people down. I’d rather focus on solutions not who did what and when.
I’m not even supposed to be tweeting. But now it’s gotten to death thread level and people literally asking for police protection at their homes. a lot of lies are being told and a lot of people get off on drama. again, only thing that matters is the fans, vendors, etc. get $$$”
This tweet was subsequently deleted and can no longer be found on his account.
As of Sunday, April 22nd at 12:03 EST, a representative of 3 Black Geeks, an affiliate of Universal FanCon, stated:
“Around about, I wanna say February, I can’t really be sure, but February or March-ish, we got news that we didn’t have enough money.”
He went on to recall that he and those at his website had suggested that Universal FanCon scale back the size of the event. However, at a following meeting, he states going to a meeting where they concluded that the event might not happen:
“At that point, I was saying, and I said it twice, ‘We’re damned if we do, we’re damned if we don’t.’ Go for it. Let’s just tell the fans. [Others in the meeting said,] ‘Well we want to do this, well we want to apologize, we want to do this, let’s do a Kickstarter.’ Let’s just tell the truth. I’m fine with telling the truth, and several people said let’s just tell the truth. And they didn’t do it. We thought it was on. Then last week, by the attitude, everybody was chipper. Like, oh shit, it was looking all gloomy, but we might get this shit done.”
He then goes on to state that the problem was money. “Basically what happened was they just didn’t have enough money. And truth be told, we didn’t have enough money since probably February. Probably before that.” The full video can be found on the 3 Black Geeks YouTube channel.
— 3BG (Yo mama says we're cute) (@3BlackGeeks) April 22, 2018
Also on Sunday, April 22nd at 12:03 EST, co-found Robert Butler tweeted that he would be doing a periscope at 2:00 PM EST to address questions and concerns, however shortly before that assigned time, his tweet was deleted and there was no periscope.
Update #6 April 23, 2018, 2:30 PM EST: As of Sunday, April 22nd at around 11:30 AM EST Universal FanCon posted a post on their Instagram account regarding Thai Pham. Universal FanCon insists that Thai Pham bears no responsibility for the events of FanCon.
“It has come to our attention that certain members of the Universal FanCon staff have been identified publically, and accused of wrongdoing. We can certainly understand the collective disappointment and frustration of the community. However, please be aware that Mr. Thai Pham and others who have served as either contractors or volunteer staff bear no responsibility for these unfortunate circumstances, or the postponement of FanCon. We ask for your continued patience as we work towards a resolution. The FanCon Team”
As of Sunday, April 22nd at 5:08 PM EST a Twitter investigator uncovered that PrideCon, a convention in which Thai Pham played a key role as CEO and co-founder, was mentioned several times in paperwork meant for the special guest questionnaire. Although this does not point to Thai Pham having direct connection to the downfall of Universal FanCon.
Well, updates on the #UniversalFanCon insanity
Pride Con, which cancelled & refunded nobody in this same exact fashion, was left in the paperwork for the special guest questionnaire. The whole staff didn't do this, but there were super terrible people taking advantage of stuff. pic.twitter.com/cefRpEJBg8
— Shyguy @ ColossalCon (@ProfessorShyguy) April 22, 2018
As of Monday, April 23rd at 8:49 AM EST there are ticket holders who still have not recieved emails regarding the postponement of Universal FanCon.
— Tanagra (@TanagraGGNOC) April 23, 2018