Moscone Madness


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.

Tom’s Take

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.

9 thoughts on “Moscone Madness

  1. Spot on Tom. The cost of going to San Diego is just as high as San Francisco, but at least there is room at the conference center. For the small amount of time I spend in the room, I would just as well stay in a college dorm at a conference rate like Boy Scout conferences.

    Although I do remember when Networkers was a much smaller conference, there were some advantages.

  2. Amen. San Francisco is a beautiful town, but we really struggled this year at #clus to find places to congregate en masse. It seems that the same has held true for #vmworld as well. I can’t speak to San Diego conferences, but I didn’t enjoy paying $848729285429 for a hotel room that was smaller than my closet at home.

  3. I’d never been to SF or Moscone for an event, and it was rather annoying to traipse back and forth between the various buildings and areas for different seminars at Live 2014. I also think that my hotel was something like $500 a night.

    I’d absolutely prefer Orlando, Las Vegas, or San Diego, or perhaps Dallas or Phoenix, or Atlanta.

  4. Spot on Tom. I love the city of San Francisco but it is expensive as hell and the Moscone Center was way small compared to Orlando or Las Vegas. San Diego will be interesting… Looking forward to it!

  5. Hmm, I’d actually have to disagree. I just moved to SF, so perhaps my feelings about SF make me biased. I traveled from what was then home in the midwest to SF this year for CLUS, and went to Orlando last year.

    My hotel was more expensive this year in SF, but I also booked it very last minute. And it was still a lot more convenient to get to Moscone from my hotel this year than it was to get to OCCC from my hotel last year. We ended up having to rent a car, stay in Kissimee (no idea how that’s spelled) and drive, park, etc. Last year in Orlando was also fairly miserable given the weather hot / humid / rainy weather. Perhaps if they held it during the winter it would be pleasant there.

    Size wise, the only thing that felt tight for me this year were the keynotes. I got decent seats at both the opening and closing ones, but to be honest I didn’t really go for the keynotes (though Sal Khan’s was pretty cool)…so I wouldn’t be that disappointed if I missed them.

    I didn’t go to CLUS in San Diego, but I had heard from a few people that they had problems even finding a hotel there a couple years back. Granted, that’s secondhand info, so perhaps that’s exaggerated. I’m at more of a Juniper shop now, so I probably won’t be going next year anyway. Vegas doesn’t sound pleasant in the summer months either.

    I certainly don’t have any statistics to back this up, but it also wouldn’t surprise me if there is a higher density of attendees in this area versus elsewhere.

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