The Moscone Center in San Francisco is a popular place for technical events. Apple’s World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC) is an annual user of the space. Cisco Live and VMworld also come back every few years to keep the location lively. This year, both conferences utilized Moscone to showcase tech advances and foster community discussion. Having attended both this year in San Francisco, I think I can finally state the following with certainty.
It’s time for tech conferences to stop using the Moscone Center.
Let’s face it. If your conference has more than 10,000 attendees, you have outgrown Moscone. WWDC works in Moscone because they cap the number of attendees at 5,000. VMworld 2014 has 22,000 attendees. Cisco Live 2014 had well over 20,000 as well. Cramming four times the number of delegates into a cramped Moscone Center does not foster the kind of environment you want at your flagship conference.
The main keynote hall in Moscone North is too small to hold the large number of audience members. In an age where every keynote address is streamed live, that shouldn’t be a problem. Except that people still want to be involved and close to the event. At both Cisco Live and VMworld, the keynote room filled up quickly and staff were directing the overflow to community spaces that were already packed too full. Being stuffed into a crowded room with no seating or table space is frustrating. But those are just the challenges of Moscone. There are others as well.
I Left My Wallet In San Francisco
San Francisco isn’t cheap. It is one of the most expensive places in the country to live. By holding your conference in downtown San Francisco, you are forcing your 20,000+ attendees into a crowded metropolitan area with expensive hotels. Every time I looked up a hotel room in the vicinity of VMworld or Cisco Live, I was unable to find anything for less than $300 per night. Contrast that with Interop or Cisco Live in Las Vegas, where sub-$100 are available and $200 per night gets you into the hotel of the conference center.
Las Vegas is built for conferences. It has adequate inexpensive hotel options. It is designed to handle a large number of travelers arriving at once. While spread out geographically, it is easy to navigate. In fact, except for the lack of Uber, Las Vegas is easy to get around in than San Francisco. I never have a problem finding a restaurant in Vegas to take a large party. Bringing a group of 5 or 6 to a restaurant in San Francisco all but guarantees you won’t find a seat for hours.
The only real reason I can see for holding conferences at Moscone, aside from historical value, is the ease of getting materials and people into San Francisco. Cisco and VMware both are in Silicon Valley. Driving up to San Francisco is much easier than shipping the conference equipment to Las Vegas or Orlando. But ease-of-transport does not make it easy on your attendees. Add in the fact that the lower cost of setup is not reflected in additional services or reduced hotel rates and you can imagine that attendees have no real incentive to come to Moscone.
The Moscone Center is like the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. While both have a history of producing wonderful events, both have passed their prime. They are ill-suited for modern events. They are cramped and crowded. They are in unfavorable areas. It is quickly becoming more difficult to hold events for these reasons. But unlike the Cotton Bowl, which has almost 100 years of history, Moscone offers not real reason to stay. Apple will always be here. Every new iPhone, Mac, and iPad will be launched here. But those 5,000 attendees are comfortable in one section of Moscone. Subjecting your VMworld and Cisco Live users to these kinds of conditions is unacceptable.
It’s time for Cisco, VMware, and other large organizations to move away from Moscone. It’s time to recognize that Moscone is not big enough for an event that tries to stuff in every user it can. instead, conferences should be located where it makes sense. Las Vegas, San Diego, and Orlando are conference towns. Let’s use them as they were meant to be used. Let’s stop the madness of trying to shoehorn 20,000 important attendees into the sardine can of the Moscone Center.