The slow motion car crash that was the failed Universal Fan Con continues to fascinate, the way all disasters do. NY Magazine’s Lila Shapiro has a report for Vulture that gets both co-founders Jamie Broadnax and Robert Butler on the record. While it isn’t the deep dive it claims to be, it does get a lot of number out there. Some highlights.
• Shapiro confirmed with the Baltimore Convention Center that Butler put down a $45,000 deposit on a contract for the show back when the Kickstarter was running, probably early 2017. The money was from the Kickstarter, apparently and this proves that right from the start, this show was wayyyyy out of control. Or as Shapiro put it “This deposit would prove to be their first, and perhaps biggest, mistake.”
• According to Butler, he and other UFC founders have sunk more than $300,000 into the failed con and they plan to take out loans to make refunds. (How????)
• Thai Pham, the man with multiple failed cons on his resume, says he didn’t profit from UFC’s failure, and had to file for bankruptcy because of the failure of Pride Con in 2016. (Pham and his partner did file for personal bankruptcy in late 2016, with creditors including The Anaheim Hilton and Eventbrite.)
• At the time everything came apart, at the beginning of the year, UFC had sold only 169 tickets.
• Broadnax once again pleads ignorance prior to the early April board meeting that tipped everyone off that a disaster was in the offing.
Broadnax said this was the first she’d heard that ticket sales were low. But she didn’t learn about the deficit, she says, until a phone call with the board members in early April, when Robert announced that they were $289,000 in the hole. Looking back, she wondered why she hadn’t paid more attention to the financial picture earlier on. “I should have dug into more details about what was actually being paid, and how much money we had in capital, and I’m going to have to live with that regret for a long time,” she said.
• As we all suspected, the con cancellation came about when the hotel bill came due and rooms got cancelled, on April 19th. A bill was due for more than $70,000 for hotel rooms. But:
In a panic, Broadnax called Pham, who explained that this was the least of their problems, as they still owed $400,000 to various contractors.
• The con made $150,000 in ticket and booth sales and sponsorships, but Butler claims expenditures of $250,000 he can remember. The other $150k? Who knows. Butler doesn’t. I’m sure there are a lot of ways to fritter away money on running a con, but until someone sees the receipts this is going to remain a big question mark. SOMEONE made money off of UFC to the tune of six figures. Who? Was it the marketing bot?
While this article does confirm some of the numbers that have been floating around, it opened old wounds of people still angered by the debacle and how it affected the marginalized fandoms it was meant to help. The article was also slammed for not digging into more of the story, or citing previous articles. Indeed it seems a lot of juicy details were glossed over.
And one statement by Butler got the fires stoked all over again, when he said that the founders had expected their large twitter followers to buy tickets. But “I should have known better. But I let my belief in this nonexistent community blind me.”
The community does very much exist as Wicomicon and other events aimed at marginalized fans show. But they just shouldn’t have started so damned big.
Rest assured a bunch of internet detectives are still on the case, as with this twitter thread that has dug into the finances of Anime Expo when Pham was a board member.
…….whoa, now wait a minute, Thai Pham, Director of Finance for the SPJA.
$67k in legal fees on a $2 mil budget? Did someone sue you?
$66k in office expenses, SEPARATE from equipment and IT AND ‘improvements’?
— Jessica Langer, PhD (@DrJessicaLanger) May 8, 2018
Some nice detective work there!
Also, Tweeter @blerdman has a timeline for those who wish to further investigate.
Ultimately the Vulture article failed to answer the key (to me anyway) questions about UFC: when did it turn into a scam? Was it one from the beginning or did it start when all the bad con runners and bots were hired?
My guts tell me that any further details we get about the Downfall of Universal Fan Con are just going to be more infuriating.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.