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Valley Wonk: Party On!

CHICAGO – I've finally made it to Wrigley Field. After consuming decades of my life with baseball, I'm sitting in a left-field luxury box watching the Chicago Cubs get stonewalled by the Toronto Blue Jays on the eve of Supercomm 2005. It's a warm Monday night. The famous "friendly confines" really do turn out to be friendly.

Nice image, but to purists, it's baseball sacrilege. Consider:
  • It's a night game. Wrigley was the last Major League ballpark to install lights for evening play, to no small controversy. Its first night game was in 1988 -- 8/8/88, in fact – and it was rained out. Truly the baseball gods were angered.
  • It's interleague play. Without getting into details, suffice to say "Cubs vs. Blue Jays" is just plain unnatural.
  • We're in a luxury box, courtesy of the folks at the Advanced Switching Interconnect Special Interest Group (ASI-SIG), who've got a thicket of press announcements to send us home with. Not a crime, necessarily, but I distinctly remember being at a Yankees game and hearing the chant, "Box seats suck!"
Here at Wrigley Field – a shrine of baseball history, as I'm explaining so smugly to a British-born Xyratex Ltd. (Nasdaq: XRTX) exec – I'm helping spoil the baseball tradition. Ernie Banks would beat my ass with a fungo.

Do I feel guilty? Heck, no. This is what we do. We swoop into a city for our tradeshows and take over for a week, stealing space at all the attractions and stadiums, adding extra traffic to irk the natives. They don't resent it; they beg industries like telecom to do this. (Sort of. One Las Vegas hotel manager told me, long ago, that the hotels hated Comdex because the attendees didn't gamble or tip. That's why Comdex was relegated to the week before Thanksgiving, Vegas's slowest week for tourism.)

Which leads us to one metric of an industry's strength: How good are the parties? It wasn't long ago that we slogged through a brain-dead NFOEC, where we got so bored we had to drive around Orlando for entertainment (see NFOEC Scrapbook).

This year, even though Supercomm is going away (see TIA, USTA Split on Supercomm), it seems the Supercomm party machine is back, and that must mean good news, right?

Something like 99 parties are descending on the House of Blues Tuesday night. And at least one startup was giving clients and press a cruise on Lake Michigan. (Which is a nice offer, but three hours in a boat with marketing people? That's not a party. That's Purgatory.)

Some of the big names are shying away from the party circuit, though. Juniper Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: JNPR) went all-out last year, taking over a nightclub for a surprisingly hip shindig (surprising for a bunch of engineers) but they're not reprising this year – probably because it takes too much of a bite out of those quarterly earnings. And Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) is keeping a low profile, too, with only a small press/analyst gathering. "John [Chambers, CEO] spent all his money on Interop," one analyst quipped.

So, while everyone cruises the Supercomm floor asking if business will continue improving, there's a subtext: Will the parties get back to their former glory? That goes for the tchotchkes, too. Think of the things companies used to do, like the time Altera Corp. (Nasdaq: ALTR) gave out full-sized baseball bats. They were the highlight of the conference (I can't remember which one it was) – but even pre-2001, the airlines wouldn't let anyone carry on such an obvious weapon. Altera gave out hockey sticks the following year but had them shipped home.

As late as June 2001, the tradeshow money was still flowing. Movaz Networks Inc., hoping for some fireworks at its first Supercomm, looked into hiring Ray Charles and giving out Ray-Ban sunglasses. Sadly, Charles refused to perform on the show floor, leaving Movaz with a legacy of products named "Ray" for no apparent reason.

Here's hoping that if nothing else, this last Supercomm kicks off the next great cycle of cool conference anecdotes. And you'll forward them right to us when you see them happen, won't you?

— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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