San Jose may revamp, break up city convention, marketing, events group

SAN JOSE — Team San Jose, the city’s principal arm for conventions, events and marketing, might be reorganized and broken up — even though the municipality has extended its contract with the group.

The San Jose City Council has approved a renewal of its contract with Team San Jose — but not before some council members, including the mayor, raised concerns over the organization’s effectiveness.

“Performance measures were last updated in 2017, before the pandemic,” San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan said, referring to the metrics to measure Team San Jose’s effectiveness.

Team San Jose promotes the Bay Area’s largest city as a regional, nationwide and global destination. The organization also manages the San Jose McEnery Convention Center, the “blue tent” South Hall, Parkside Hall and four city-owned San Jose theater venues.

“Having metrics from 2017 is not a valid way to analyze the success of Team San Jose’s work,” said Bob Staedler, principal executive with Silicon Valley Synergy, a land-use consultancy.

The mayor criticized the vague performance metrics for Team San Jose, saying that the lack of precision makes it tough to measure the organization’s effectiveness.

“I don’t see concrete goals, metrics, here’s what we did in the last five years, here’s our commitment to improvement in the next five years,” Mahan said.

Mahan critiqued some of the wording in a city memo that specified the stated goals for Team San Jose.

“It says optimize the convention and cultural facilities. What does that mean?” Mahan said. “It feels like it’s on autopilot. It feels very perfunctory. We need to do better.”

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John LaFortune, chief executive officer of Team San Jose, acknowledged that he is aware of the criticism being directed at his organization’s performance.

“We hear loud and clear that there is more we can do within the contract to ensure the best for San Jose,” LaFortune told the City Council just before the San Jose political leaders voted to extend the city’s contract with the organization. The vote took place on June 18.

Some council members raised the specter of potentially reorganizing Team San Jose, possibly even breaking up the organization into two or three groups, each of which would be more narrowly focused.

It’s possible that one new unit could focus on convention center management, another could concentrate on marketing the city to visitors, and another could focus solely on the four theaters.

“We need to lower the cost of the convention center and theater venues immediately to help downtown San Jose become more vibrant,” Staedler said. “There would be immense value in separating the operation and management contracts for all four city-owned theater venues.”

Downtown San Jose is battling to recover from the economic maladies that the coronavirus unleashed. That reality means it’s crucial for the city to successfully market itself as a destination so visitors pack the convention center, restaurants, theaters and other venues.

Yet the angst and concern over Team San Jose has emerged at a crucial time for the city and its downtown district.

“As we look towards 2026, San Jose expects a massive economic boost from Super Bowl 60, March Madness, and the FIFA World Cup,” stated a memo prepared by Mahan and city councilmembers David Cohen, Dev Davis and Pam Foley.

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Super Bowl 60 and the FIFA World Cup alone could generate more than $500 million in economic impact for Santa Clara County, according to the memo.

“With the city’s, other stakeholders, and Team San Jose’s support, we aim to ensure every sports enthusiast in 2026 knows to fly, play, and stay in San Jose,” the memo from the mayor and the three council members stated.

Nevertheless, Mahan made it clear that he and other political leaders expect more from Team San Jose.

“We need to do better,” Mahan said.

Alarmed by a lack of business being steered its way by Team San Jose, at least one downtown hotel, the Signia by Hilton San Jose, has turned to self-booking its events.

“We estimate that 80% to 90% of our business is self-booked, self-contained,” said Sam Hirbod, owner of the Signia San Jose. “It’s disappointing because all hotels would benefit from the convention center. We don’t have a choice because we can’t depend on Team San Jose.”

 

 

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