For many convention-goers, just one big entertainment and pop culture event in the Valley such as Phoenix Comicon is simply not enough. The team behind the increasingly popular event had this in mind when they poured their time and resources together to start organizing another convention: Phoenix Fan Fest.

“For a number of years, we’ve been asked by attendees to move Phoenix Comicon to cooler climates,” says Matt Solberg, convention director for Phoenix Comicon.

Solberg states too many issues would arise from moving Phoenix Comicon itself to a different time, so an alternative solution was reached. “It was a situation where we were taking in full-time staff, and with that came the ability to put on a new show, which was Phoenix Fan Fest.”

Phoenix Fan Fest
For its first two years of operation, Phoenix Fan Fest was held in the University of Phoenix Stadium, and last year saw 11,403 in recorded attendance. (Photo courtesy of Phoenix Fan Fest)

Phoenix Fan Fest was first held back in December of 2014, and Solberg admits that the turnaround time for that first event was very quick. “I think we had the first contracts around the end of August,” he explains. “We negotiated and finalized the contracts and announced [the convention] three days later in September.”

For its first two years of operation, Phoenix Fan Fest was held in the University of Phoenix Stadium, and last year saw 11,403 in recorded attendance. But this year, the convention is instead being held in the Phoenix Convention Center for two days: October 22 and 23.

At the University of Phoenix Stadium, the event was held in December, which made it difficult for guests to attend because of the holidays, Solberg says. Also, since this was during the NFL’s season, the event’s timing was dictated by the season schedule, he adds.

Solberg was optimistic about how Phoenix Fan Fest could expand its panels and events by moving to the new location, stating that the University of Phoenix Stadium didn’t give the organizers chances to run many different kinds of events.

By moving Phoenix Fan Fest to the Phoenix Convention Center, one of the events they were more free to explore was a fan-based game show, which is basically “Geek Family Feud,” he says. At the convention center they’re able to get more audience participation. Fan Fest organizers have been able to expand the game show, making it one of the event’s signature shows, Solberg says.

Phoenix Fan Fest
Cosplayers dressed as characters inspired from Star Wars. (Photo courtesy of Phoenix Fan Fest)

A big factor in the decision to move Phoenix Fan Fest from the University of Phoenix Stadium also comes down to potential for the convention to grow in a venue such as the Phoenix Convention Center, with a large focus on potentially having more attendees.

“It should be kind of an easier show for us to organize,” Solberg says. “but when we look at the move, it’s more for the attendees to attend. The light rail goes up to the Convention Center; it doesn’t go up to the stadium.”

Although Phoenix Fan Fest is becoming bigger, Solberg ensures that it and Phoenix Comicon are very unlikely to blend into the same experiences for attendees.

“Fan Fest is differentiated by the kinds of genres [the convention highlights]; bringing out actors from current TV shows, as well as wrestlers from the WWE.”

This will be the first time Phoenix Fan Fest is hosted at the same venue as its big sibling, Phoenix Comicon. And while many people come to these conventions to take a load off from busy lives to enjoy the atmosphere of fandoms coming together, quite a few see Arizona’s conventions as opportunities for business, campaigning, awareness boosts, and even romantic encounters. Yes, “Sci-Fi Speed Dating” very much exists.

One group that comes to these conventions is Umbrella Corporation Arizona Hive, a costuming charity group based on the popular video game and movie series “Resident Evil,” and a planned guest for this October’s Phoenix Fan Fest.

The Hive comes to conventions not only to sport their (often hand-made) urban militaristic outfits, prop firearms and creature costumes, but also to help raise money and awareness for the Arizona Animal Welfare League and Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (or SPCA), the state’s largest and oldest no-kill shelter, which was founded in 1971.

Christopher Zunino, a representative for Umbrella Corporation Arizona Hive, says “Any sort of event that there would be a need for fantasy or video game characters, anything like that, we show up to those events in gear, and we usually have vendor booths.” Either through donations or through merchandise which they make themselves based on the “Resident Evil” franchise (which the group clearly disclaims ownership of), the group members give all of their profits to AAWL. In one year, Zunino states that the group was able to raise about $5,000 for AAWL.

Zunino also participates with the group’s costuming, cosplaying as the recurring series character Albert Wesker since 2014, and Zunino says that video game publishers such as Capcom (who owns the “Resident Evil” franchise) will often encourage such fan-involvement.

“It’s actually more of a positive thing in the world of video games,” Zunino says.

[espro-slider id=197979]


Many fans gathered in Downtown Phoenix in June for the 2016 Phoenix Comicon. Photos by Kristina Venegas, AZ Big Media

This June saw 106,096 attendees come to Phoenix Comicon, but such an impressive number for attendance came with an unforeseeable consequence. Due to a network and database issue, the convention’s registration was backed up on Friday morning, which pushed lines back and left some attendees waiting in record-breaking summer heats, as high as 115 degrees Fahrenheit, for as long as two hours.

“It had been the first time it happened since 2010,” Solberg says, “and by Friday afternoon, there were no more lines outside for the duration of the event. Every year of the event, there’s always something that doesn’t go well; always something that needs to get fixed for next year.”

Trouble aside, local businesses around the Phoenix Comicon atmosphere receive a substantial boost each time conventions are brought to the area, drawing people and revenue into Phoenix. Danyell Schastny, director of sales and marketing for Hyatt Regency Phoenix, says Hyatt has been partnering with Phoenix Comicon since 2010.

Hyatt Regency Phoenix was the host hotel for this summer’s Phoenix Comicon and will also be the host hotel for Phoenix Fan Fest this fall. Schastny shares that “Hotel associates get excited and are engaged in the convention. Associates decorate their departments and dress for the convention.We enjoy being part of the convention.”

“The city and hotels really come to rely on Phoenix Comicon,” Solberg says “It’s generally a time of the year that’s slow for businesses in the core.” Solberg estimates that room nights peaked around 1,800 at the Hyatt, Sheraton, Renaissance, and Westin hotels for Phoenix Comicon’s weekend.

“Our attendees are staying at these hotels, eating at these restaurants, drinking at these bars,” Solberg says. “They’re buying from our vendors (and) paying sales tax. I think our impact is very positive for our vendors, for our artists, ultimately for the city (Phoenix). Fan Fest’s impact is smaller than that [of Phoenix Comicon]; it’s a smaller show. But our goal is to grow Fan Fest into a larger show, so we can make a larger contribution to businesses in the area.”

Solberg also states that the impact of conventions like Phoenix Comicon and Phoenix Fan Fest goes beyond simple business: many of the local businesses come out for these conventions and start to schedule events in conjunction with Comicon.

“We’ve seen CityScape do geek-themed events at their locations,” Solberg says. “The comedy club there has had comedy acts tied in with geek culture, like Kevin Smith. We’ve seen local restaurants offer discounts if you come in costume. For us to see that stuff adds to the experience of attending Phoenix Comicon, and that would be our hope to see for [Phoenix] Fan Fest as well.“