by Brendan M. Lynch | March 01, 2005

America’s past is replete with rivalrous behavior among cities. In the late 18th century, bitter competition between municipalities in the North and South forced the fledgling federal government to create Washington, D.C., as a compromise capital midway between both regions. In the late 19th century, dozens of small cities in the American heartland battled over which would be named county seats, and many losers of these “county-seat wars” dried up into ghost towns.
    In the 21st century, U.S. cities compete for corporate headquarters, federal money and sports franchises. But the $80 billion convention industry has given many intercity contests a decidedly sharper edge.
    “Cities, especially their convention and visitor bureaus, are very familiar with who their primary competitors are, and they are tying to match or better other cities in determining what new facilities they will develop,” says Thomas Hazinski, managing director of Chicago-based HVS Convention, Sports & Entertainment Facilities Consulting. “They know what event planners are telling them, and they know what cities they are losing to. They want to keep up with the Joneses.”
    Because of business, geography, sports and culture, some American cities have become direct rivals with each other competing with extra zeal for conventions, trade shows and the upper hand in selling themselves to potential visitors. Here’s an inside look at some of the hottest feuds.

Los Angeles

San Francisco

Los Angeles vs.
San Francisco

The longstanding rivalry between Los Angeles and San Francisco is rooted in cultural differences, shared West Coast geography and intense sports competition. Recently, rivalrous attitudes have exploded their way into marketing efforts dreamed up by the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau. As the SFCVB honchos were brainstorming a new marketing campaign to generate interest and new business for the Golden Gate City, they struck pay dirt with an incendiary new slogan: “Not in L.A.”
    Within months, San Francisco’s “Not in L.A.” tag line was emblazoned on bar coasters and mobile billboards around California; “Not in L.A.” ads aired on the radio, and the SFCVB even established, a website offering discounted trips to San Francisco.
    “The ‘Not in L.A.’ campaign carries great visibility and gets laughs from both sides,” says Mark Theis, vice president with the San Francisco CVB. “It’s a playful game between the two cities. Los Angeles and San Francisco have always had a north-south rivalry from what were the old L.A. Rams versus the 49ers to the Giants vs. the Dodgers. The ‘Not in L.A.’ campaign is a lure to visit, which drives users to ‘Only in San Francisco,’ which conveys things that are San Francisco-specific. It’s not supposed to be an attack campaign, but a tease.”
    Nonetheless, the campaign has raised the hackles of Los Angeles boosters, who see the swipe at their city as evidence of a San Franciscan inferiority complex.
    “We think that the efforts of our friends in that little fishing village to the north are entirely appropriate,” says Michael Collins, executive vice president of LA Inc., the convention and visitors bureau of Los Angeles. “They should be admired for their special efforts to draw business to their little town. They’re going to get visitors because we love to go up to the more primitive environment and enjoy that it’s a diversion from the more high-energy experience we have here. We are delighted that they are so preoccupied by us.”
    While the “Not in L.A.” campaign is said to be aimed primarily at consumers, meetings industry experts say there is carryover into the fight between the cities for conventions, exhibitions and corporate events. “When placing an event, the key decision point for planners is the ability to attract attendees. All of the things in a city that create the ability to attract attendees is a city’s overall destination appeal,” notes Hazinski, who adds that “planners are not just looking at facilities but looking at the overall tourism environment, and they pay close attention to the overall image of the city.”
    And when it comes down to it, according to Hazinski, both Los Angeles and San Francisco have advantages and drawbacks to their convention infrastructure. “The Los Angeles Convention Center is bigger. San Francisco offers a better urban environment, but its convention center is constrained. Moscone doesn’t have a contiguous hall that’s a drawback.”
True, the LACC claims the size advantage with 720,000 square feet of exhibition and 147,000 square feet of meeting space. By contrast, San Francisco’s smaller Moscone Center’s North and South buildings offer 442,000 square feet of exhibit space and 68 meeting rooms; recently, the Moscone West expansion, completed in 2003, added 300,000 square feet of exhibit space and 38 meeting rooms, but the new building sits a half block west of the original venue.
    For hotel offerings, however, the City by the Bay has the numerical edge. San Francisco has 32,719 hotel rooms, with roughly 20,000 within walking distance of Moscone. Many of these hotel rooms are in the chic Union Square shopping district. Additionally, the city offers great public transportation, including a subway, light-rail trains, buses and those iconic cable cars (the only ones still in operation in the world). Los Angeles, by contrast, is car-centric; freeways dominate the landscape. The City of Angels offers 110,000 hotel rooms, of which 14,000 are close enough to walk to the convention center, according to LA Inc. However, complaints surfaced during the 2000 Democratic National Convention that some delegates were marooned more than 17 miles from the Staples Center.
    “San Francisco is a tighter package in that there are so many more hotel rooms within walking distance of Moscone,” says Darrell Baker, group vice president for event services with Framingham, Mass.-based IDG Worldwide, who has placed business in both cities. “Los Angeles has a wonderful convention center and lots of hotels, but the hotels need to catch up closer to the center. In San Francisco we don’t need to provide buses. In Los Angeles we would need to do that.”
    Despite such differences between the cities, groups often consider both destinations and pit one city against the other when placing their events. “All the time, we compete for conventions,” says LA Inc.’s Michael Collins. “San Francisco does very well. Very recently we competed for the Society of Thoracic Surgeons. We happened to win that one, but we lose a lot to them as well.”
    The impact of the “Not in L.A.” campaign is just now being felt, and only time can tell how it might affect business in both cities. But the new emphasis on rivalry has pleased San Francisco officials, to be sure. “In terms of effectiveness, the ads have surpassed what we had thought,” says the SFCVB’s Mark Theis. “With the buzz of discussions from radio and other media people all getting a kick out of this playful game, it serves a huge purpose in itself. That’s why we’re doing these guerrilla-type strategies, to show we’re a player in the region, even though they say we’re a ‘fishing village’ or however they describe us in L.A.”