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  • EAGs from 2022–2023 each cost around $2M–$3.6M USD at around $1.5k–2.5k per person per event.
    • These events typically cost a lot because the fixed costs of running professional events in the US and UK are surprisingly high.
  • We’re aiming to get these event costs down to ≤$2M each moving forwards.
    • We’ve already started to cut back on spending and will continue to do so, whilst also raising default ticket prices to recoup more of our costs.

Throughout this post, for legibility I discuss the direct costs behind running our events and don’t include other indirect costs like staff salaries, software, and our office space (which would increase the costs below by ~25%).


This year (2023), EAG Bay Area cost $2M and EAG London cost £2M (including travel grant costs).[1] Our most expensive event ever was EAG SF 2022, which cost $3.6M. This gives us a range of about $1.5–2.5k per person per event.[2]

In-person EAGx events typically cost $150–500k, with smaller events in cheaper countries on the lower end (e.g. EAGxWarsaw) and large events in the US on the higher end (e.g. EAGxNYC). The cost per person for these events is $300–900.

You can see historical attendance figures on our dashboard.

People are often surprised by how expensive our events are — this post seeks to explain why our events have historically been so expensive, why they’ll continue to be somewhat expensive, and how we’re working to reduce costs (see an earlier post here). We’re writing this partially in response to requests from the community, but we’ll also be raising our ticket prices soon, and hope that this post will add some useful context as to why.

We know event prices matter a lot in a community where people care so much about what donations can achieve and the importance of using money well — our staff feel the same way. And it’s worth noting that we still think our events are worthwhile, as they seem to have had a large effect at shifting people into high-priority work (though we plan to run them in a cheaper way now). We think that short events can be an effective way to accelerate people in building professional relationships, applying for jobs, and making other critical career decisions.

In this post I primarily discuss EAGs because they’re a much larger portion of CEA Events team spending and it’s hard to generalise across EAGx events, which occur in a wider range of contexts. However, similar principles and themes will apply to EAGx events (you can see more details in Ollie’s posts here). I’ve ended this section with an example budget breakdown for EAG London 2023, though I’ll note that the precise breakdown tends to vary a fair bit between events.

EAG London 2023



Audiovisual and video recording£170,975.93 
Printing and signage£106,658.40
Travel grants£110,000.00
Production company fee£98,810.00
Furniture hire£33,610.50
Other costs[4]£161,316.96
Total costs£1,953,969.79

Venue and catering

Our biggest spending items are venue and catering.

In a given city there are surprisingly few venues that can host 1500+ people. Some of these venues instantly get ruled out for being too expensive/flashy, being too far away from easy transit, not having suitable availability, etc.[5] This means that in the Bay Area for example, there are maybe four venues that I would consider viable for a 1500+ person EAG (as it exists currently, with a main networking area, multiple content/meetup rooms, etc.).[6] 

Most venues force you to use their in-house catering company[7] and don’t let you bring in your own food (i.e. we can’t buy a bunch of Oreos ourselves). These catering companies generally have a minimum mandatory spend, and significantly mark up the costs of their services. For the upcoming EAG Boston for example (prices include service charge):

  • $65 a head for dinner[8]
  • $55 a head for lunch
  • $4 for a bag of chips/crisps
  • $8 for a cup of tea (i.e. hot water and tea bag)

And these numbers assume everything gets consumed. It’s pretty bad to run out of food and it’s hard to predict what people will eat (i.e. more snacks get eaten if the meals are bad), so we usually have a bit of extra for everything.[9] This means that for EAG Boston, we’re expecting to spend $550k on three meals and some (minimal) snacks and drinks. Doing breakfast, lunch, and dinner throughout the event would cost us ~$1M. And for reference, these numbers aren’t the most expensive we’ve seen — at the Oakland Marriott in the Bay Area, dinner averaged ~$80 a head.

I’ve talked to other people who run events to get a sense of how much their costs breakdown, though it’s been hard to find good information (budget breakdowns are generally not very public and I’ve struggled to get good information from organisers outside of EA). I’ve found that non-profit conferences will often charge attendees ~$400 per person (tickets often being subsidised) — though most of these events don’t provide much food and often have fewer attendees in a less functional space (fewer rooms and less space for meetings). On the other side of the spectrum, for-profit conferences often charge people $1–2k for an event with less food and production value than an EAG (and are often subsidised by sponsors/vendors).[10]

Why is everything so expensive? Here are some reasons we think may be significant (not a comprehensive list):

  • Big venues are just generally quite expensive to run (big properties, lots of staff, etc.).
  • These venues are often empty, forcing them to charge more when they actually do host events.
  • Catering costs are marked up in order to mark venue costs down. Many customers will anchor on an initial venue cost; by the time they hear the exorbitant catering fees later, they may feel it’s too late to switch. (We always ask to see both venue and catering costs up front.)

Other costs

Similar principles apply to other items too. That is, generally things cost a lot more than one might think due to large markups. For audiovisual (AV) setups, companies will charge us $1,000 to rent a single laptop for a week that the AV technicians will need to use in the rooms that are being recorded. And labour is also expensive, at ~$1,000/day per AV technician you use. (We have plans to save on these costs — see below.)

There are also lots of other random costs that are hard to avoid:

  • Trash haul fees
  • Wi-Fi fees (to allow attendees to use Swapcard from different parts of the building)
  • Security fees
  • Printing and signage fees
  • Contractor and other labour fees

Prices have also risen a fair bit in the last couple of years due to inflation, meaning that in general I expect it to be more difficult to reduce nominal costs, even while we are using fewer services like these where possible.

What are we doing to save money?

Due to the new funding environment, we’ve been cutting down our spending for the past few EAGs, and we’re planning to cut it down even further. In making these judgement calls we’re mostly optimising for trying to get as many high quality attendees networking together for a reasonably affordable rate. We’re aiming for scrappier events, with fewer meals, though we think we can retain a significant proportion of the value at ~75% of the cost. Some things we’re doing:

  • Cutting the number of meals served down to ~3 rather than 5 or 6 (cutting dinner at EAG Bay Area seemed to make the event a bit worse, but not massively so[11]). And also cutting snack and drink variety — only having a few basic snack and drink options available.
  • Selecting cheaper venues (which may be in slightly more annoying locations, have fewer suitable rooms, have less natural light, etc.).
  • Cutting the number of sessions we record and making AV setups more basic — largely because our uploaded talks have historically had low view counts.
  • Generally negotiating harder and more aggressively on prices.
  • We’ve kept on doing travel grants but are being more conservative in how much money we give out.
  • Cutting other bits where we can, including inventory and certain types of labour.

We’re also considering moving back to running two EAGs a year rather than three, though we’re planning to wait and see how EAG Boston goes before making a decision for 2024. We’ve explored whether it would be worth it to make the events smaller, and it seemed like it didn’t cut costs sufficiently (per person) for this to be worthwhile, though we’d like to dig into this more in the future. We’re also thinking about whether we should change the structure of the event to open up our venue options (e.g., remove nearly all the content rooms), which could help us to create a more cost effective event.

We looked a bit at running our events in other locations or further out from cities. Generally things didn’t seem sufficiently cheaper but this is something we’d like to explore further. I do also think there’s a fairly substantial cost to running our events in non-hub locations, because some of the best-networked people in the community (people who can provide mentorship, advice, funding, and so on) will be much less likely to attend. It would also take more time and travel costs for non-local people to attend, reducing the appeal of doing an event outside of a hub.

We’re still working out the details, but we also expect to raise default ticket prices. That is, instead of people paying $200 for a ticket that costs us $1500, they’ll be paying maybe $500 for a ticket that costs us $1000. We still expect to have discounted tickets for students and people on lower incomes, and on the other end of the spectrum we may ask some people to pay for their ticket price in its entirety. This means that people can start expecting to pay more for a (hopefully only slightly) lower-quality event, and we still expect folks to get a lot of value in attending.

If you'd like to give us anonymous feedback you can do so with Amy (who runs the CEA Events team) here.

  1. ^

    The venues and large parts of their set-up were booked before the FTX collapse. Our venue for Boston was booked afterwards, and we did re-check whether it still made sense to proceed with it. We concluded yes, though I regret not thinking about it harder (as I don’t feel super confident in our conclusions), and plan to do so for 2024 if we go ahead with a Boston event.

  2. ^

    These costs don’t include CEA salaries and other indirect costs. They also don’t include revenue generated from ticket sales, but this has been fairly low in recent years and doesn't strongly affect the overall figures.

  3. ^

    As we explain later, many “venue” costs are instead categorised as “catering” by large event venues. It may be more helpful to think of this as a “venue + catering” cost of £1,272,598.00.

  4. ^

    This includes things like the speakers reception, radio hire, Wi-Fi costs, Swapcard fees, and inventory items like stationary.

  5. ^

    For example, the Ritz Carlton San Francisco seems like it could work for our events, but would just be more expensive than the Hilton or the Marriott hotels in the area.

  6. ^

    These are the Palace of Fine Arts, the Oakland Marriott, Hilton Union Square, and the Hyatt Regency San Francisco Airport. (We’ve searched SF, Berkeley, and Oakland thoroughly over the last few years, and we’re fairly confident there aren’t other suitable options in these areas, though there may be other feasible venues located further out. If you have questions about a venue we didn’t name, or a suggestion for something you think might work, we’re happy to hear them, and may be able to clarify why we’ve ruled out a particular venue.)

  7. ^

    You can generally get out of this if you pay a high enough fee, but it’s not usually worth it.

  8. ^

    People sometimes ask whether doing all vegan food costs more. The answer is not really, though sometimes these caterers will mark you up a bit if you request certain fake meat products.

  9. ^

     Our attendees also seem to eat more than most conference attendees (we’ve frequently run out of food or come close to doing so even when our attendee estimates were accurate).

  10. ^

    If anyone runs large events or knows anyone who does, I’d love to chat!

  11. ^

    It seemed like the number of overall connections reported and meetings booked throughout the event were not very different from events where we did serve dinner.

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I enjoyed this, thanks!

Brief thoughts:
1. Very thankful for the teams that run these! I got a lot of value from them.
2. Obvious comment, but I'd be interested in more EAG Virtual conferences. It's possible they don't seem as cool, but maybe that's partially fixable. I'd expect this to cut down on much of the expense. I liked the EAG Virtual, during the pandemic, that I went to. 
3. It seems healthy to me to raise prices over time, maybe up to full-cost or even over (small profit margin)? I think EA would be better if people paid more for services they used. 
4. If one were to estimate the value of EAG in terms of something like, "quality-adjusted person times interaction-time", I would expect that there could be more small events that could be cost-effective. 
5. I'd feel good about experimentation. Even, take a year or two off from EAGs and try out very different kinds of events. We're in this for the long-term, I think more exploration could make sense.
6. If OP is paying for much of it, I'd really like for them to state what their logic model for what they think the value is. I feel nervous being subsidized to do something, when it's not very clear to me exactly what that reasoning is. 
7. On that note, I'd of course be interested to better understand the model of where CEA is thinking the value comes from. I have multiple hypotheses here.
8. I've noticed that at some of the EAGs I attended, the venues would kick us out pretty early, which seems to have created some lost value.

+1 that I'd love to know the assumptions behind the subsidies. I'd also like information that makes it easier for people to self-select into different EA events, beyond simply "knowledge of EA". Historically, what kind of people in what kind of situations have gotten the most value out going to an EAG conference? Who's added the most value? What kind of people do you really wish would attend? Obviously it couldn't be exhaustive, and maybe this would end up in the same kind of bad place as people over-indexing on 80k's advice, but I'd definitely be curious!

Thanks — these are some great questions, I'll try to provide some more context on some of these below: - We do currently have EAGxVirtual scheduled for November, though this is an EAGx rather than an EAG (and perhaps we should consider doing an EAG Virtual again). When we've looked at the stats, our virtual conferences do seem to get around half the connections per person. I also have the intuition that people are much less likely to make big career changes from virtual events (things like "I went to EAG London and it pushed me to drop out of my PhD"). But naturally given how cheap virtual events are, I agree we could be exploring these more. - To discuss subsidies (somewhat mentioned here but also mentioned elsewhere and in the replies): I see there as being two main (connected) reasons here. One reason is that a lot of attendees are providing value to other people as well as than themselves, meaning that the value to them is maybe $500 but the total value of their attendance is maybe $1000 (made up numbers). This may be especially true for more senior members of the community who can provide a lot for others but perhaps have little to gain for themselves. The second reason is that a lot of our attendees don't have that much disposable income — a lot of the people who can get the most value from advice and new connections are students, unemployed, or just generally not in a stable enough career path to be able to spend much money. But I'll note that I generally agree that it would be better if more EAs paid for the services they used, hence why we're planning to raise ticket prices (and are likely going to ask people who can afford it to pay for their ticket in its entirety). - I'll note that we are somewhat experimenting with other types of events on other parts of the events team, with things like EAGx's in new regions and various retreats/smaller events (like the Summit on Existential Security) — and we continue to keep doing this in the future. - We see the
Nathan Young
Surely they cost much less though? Do you think it isn't worth it even without this price difference?

Sorry yeah, they cost way less, and if we were purely optimizing for connections per dollar then virtual conferences might be all that we do. So we are going to think about doing more of these moving forwards, though I do think it would be a mistake to optimize solely for connections per dollar.

Nathan Young
So you are mainly optimising for plan changes per $? 
I think that's roughly right (I might put it as "impact-adjusted plan changes per $").
Nathan Young
Do you know how EAGs compare to 80k in this regard?
Not sure, we don't have any particular measure for impact-adjusted plan changes per $, it's more just what in theory I think we should be aiming for. In practice we mostly just track connections, to what extent people find EAGs valuable, attendance, and other easy-to-track metrics.

There's not even a vague feel on the cost effectiveness of EAGs? Or a price at which CEA/OP no longer think they'd be cost effective to run?

There's also the implicit cost of people's time that is not similarly reduced.

This is a very helpful post. I'm surprised the events are so expensive, but breakdown of costs and explanations make sense.

That said, this makes me much more skeptical about the value of EAG given the alternative potential uses of funds - even just in terms of other types of events. 

As suggested by Ozzie, I'd definitely like to see a comparison with the potential value of smaller events, as well as experimentation. 

Spending $2k per person might be good value, but I think we could do better. Perhaps there is an analogy with cash transfers as a benchmark - what event could someone put on if they were just given that money?

For example, with $2k, I expect I could hire a pub in central London for an evening (or maybe a whole day), with perhaps around 100 people attending. So that's $20 per person, or 1% of the cost of EAG. Would they get as much benefit from attending my event as attending EAG? No, but I'd bet they'd get more than 1% of the benefit. 

Now what if 10 or 20 people pooled their $2k per person? 

For example, with $2k, I expect I could hire a pub in central London for an evening (or maybe a whole day), with perhaps around 100 people attending. So that's $20 per person, or 1% of the cost of EAG. Would they get as much benefit from attending my event as attending EAG? No, but I'd bet they'd get more than 1% of the benefit. 


Worth noting these aren't necessarily mutually exclusive. It's possible both running EAGs and running these smaller events are above current funding bars.

Firstly, I agree with Daniel that we should just do both. Smaller events like the one you're suggesting here are worth doing (and I expect local EA groups do exactly this)

But I think there are effects that kick in only when events reach a certain size, e.g.

  • Speakers/experts will travel if they can speak to hundreds of people, but not to a room.
  • Similarly, if travel is costly for attendees, they might only make the trip for one large event, but not for a small event.
  • If you're looking for new opportunities, you want to speak to a wide range of people, and you might not get that with a small event.

FWIW, we have funded lots of small retreats and compared their cost-effectiveness with EAGx events, the post about that is here. The retreats were much more expensive than the pub idea, but we found that they produced a similar amount of value per person despite being almost twice the cost per person. EAG is even more expensive per person, but has the effects described above.

Just want to add that many of the retreats organised by national organisations or uni groups are a fraction of the cost of the retreats analysed in the link Ollie posted. Our most expensive retreat had a per-person cost of around EUR 260. The average retreat analysed in that post had a per-person cost of just under EUR 1,500. See my comment for further details.  

Agree, our most expensive retreat this year was at EUR ~160 per person, which was fully funded for participants (excluding our working time though).

Other retreats we did were either cheaper or partially funded by the participants themselves.

Are those in cheaper countries than the US/UK?
James Herbert
Pretty comparable according to numbeo.com.  The US is 9th on numbeo.com's cost of living plus rent index, with a score of 61, meaning it's about 61% as expensive as New York City. The Netherlands is 20th (50.9), the UK is 23rd (48.1), and Germany is 30th (46.5).  
Note that London is much more expensive than a UK average would suggest
James Herbert
I understand your point, but typically retreats aren't hosted in capital cities.

For example, with $2k, I expect I could hire a pub in central London for an evening (or maybe a whole day), with perhaps around 100 people attending. So that's $20 per person, or 1% of the cost of EAG. Would they get as much benefit from attending my event as attending EAG? No, but I'd bet they'd get more than 1% of the benefit. 

Actually, I'm not sure this is right. An evening has around 1/10 of the networking duration of a weekend, and number of connections are proportional to time spent networking and to number of participants squared. If this is 1/10th the attendance and 1/10th the duration, you're getting around 1/1000th the networking value for 1/1000th the cost, so not obviously better than an EAG weekend that costs $2M and has 1000 participants, maybe worse when you factor in people's time cost of getting to the pub as a fraction of the event duration, or maybe better if they prefer not to spend a whole weekend.

and number of connections are proportional to time spent networking and to number of participants squared

This seems wrong, 1-1s are gated by the fact that there are only so many 30 minute slots in a day. Doubling the number of attendees might allow someone to be slightly more selective in who they network with but it doesn't let them do 4x as many meetings.

To add my 2 cents: For me as a father of two children the cost of spending a whole weekend working is a huge and potentially prohibitive cost and one of the reasons I didn't attend EAG London this year (for me much more relevant than 200US$ more or less).

So I'm wondering why you have decided not to do EAGs during the week? My assumption is that especially more senior people would be more willing to come. Maybe even if that would include travel (to a cheaper location).

Thanks for sharing this Sebastian! We haven't explicitly asked people whether weekends work better than weekdays, though this has now come up a couple of times such that I'd like to do so in the future.

But my expectation is that weekends would work much better for most of our attendees as few of them have children (even the more senior folks). A lot of our attendees are students who might have classes during the week and many others work jobs for which they can't easily take time off for our event (jobs in government or academia for example).

We haven't explicitly asked people whether weekends work better than weekdays


I ran a Twitter poll (n = 297), and the results were fairly decisive in favour of weekends:

  • 14.5% would be more likely to go to EAG if it was during the week
  • 65% would be more likely to go on a weekend
  • 20.5% were indifferent.

Obviously not a representative sample or a carefully crafted survey, and it's possible people are anchored on weekends because that's when EAGs have historically taken place, but that's quite a large margin.

Still, it sucks that this doesn't work for everyone!

Sebastian Schwiecker
Thanks for the reply. I get why EAGs are not optimized for parents (still unfortunate in my case). What surprises me even more though is that at least my reading of your comment suggests that for most EAG attendees EA is still a side hustle (otherwise it would be part of their jobs or studies to attend an EA conference).

I don't think it's quite that it's a side hustle for them — it's mostly just that it's only a minority of attendees are working for EA orgs that are likely to be okay with them taking time off for an EA conference. If you're a biology student planning on working in biosecurity in the future, my guess is that you won't easily be able to move or skip your classes. Similar things might apply for people working in government or people who are skilling up outside of EA (e.g. as a law clerk).

  Potential counter-argument(s):  - some EA organisations count this as work-time anyway, so it might not matter;  - in general, some organisations have a self-development time-budget where people are allowed/supposed to take up to X days a year for conferences and workshops (usually 5, I think), so might be worth looking into;

Especially as I seem to recall EAG was put on Easter/Passover weekend one year.

I want to quickly note that we often don't have that many options for what dates we can get. Large venues are often booked out well in advance, and sometimes you need to take what you can get. It's also pretty likely that you're gonna clash with something, such as a particular university's final exams. I also doubt expect that having it on Passover/Easter affected attendance that much. 

I'll note that I don't think the above is a great excuse — I still think it was suboptimal to host an event then, but it can be quite tricky to get everything right here!

C Tilli
Strongly agree. Of course it's different what works for different people but I think it's a little odd that both EAG and EAGx seem to always be over the weekend, and I would be curious to see how the composition of attendees would shift if an event was held on work days.

This means that in the Bay Area for example, there are maybe four venues that I would consider viable for a 1500+ person EAG (as it exists currently, with a main networking area, multiple content/meetup rooms, etc.). ... These are the Palace of Fine Arts, the Oakland Marriott, Hilton Union Square, and the Hyatt Regency San Francisco Airport.

This seems really surprising to me! In the Bay Area I remember EAG 2015 was on a corporate campus (one of the Google campuses) and EAG 2016 was on a university campus (Berkeley). I'm more familiar with options in Boston, where I remember EAG 2017 was on a university campus (Harvard) and I've also been to a large annual non-EA event that rented a few different high schools over the years. Is the problem that corporate / university / high school settings aren't classy enough?

It’s more about functionality and capacity than anything else. For the Bay Area, the Google campus isn’t something that’s publicly available and you need to have a way in somehow. I’m not entirely sure how we managed to get it in 2015 (that was before my time). My understanding is that EAG 2015 only had ~400 attendees, and from chatting to people who were there, it seems pretty clear that the space they had couldn't host much more than that (though perhaps the complex has other rooms/spaces that can be used). Re UC Berkeley, I'll note that I still see this one as a near-viable option — the space has a bunch of issues but could work for something EAG-like in the future. With EAGs current setup it seems like it'd be tricky to fit 1500 people or more — we'd have to cut down on a lot of the sit-down seating and the number of session rooms. It’s also challenging in other ways, as a large event there could only be held at specific times of the year when school isn’t in session and the venue is also spread across several different buildings and levels. When it was used in 2016 one of CEA's staff was a student at the university, so we got better access and reduced pricing that would be hard for us to get now. (But to clarify, I'm still somewhat excited about UC Berkeley as an option in the future.) Re the Harvard campus, my understanding is that couldn’t fit 1500 people either — IIRC EAG Boston 2017 only had 300 people or so.
Jeff Kaufman
I expect this is true for a lot of potentially cheaper venues: because they don't normally rent the space out to the general public you need a connection. On the other hand, there are EAs at a lot of different companies and universities, so this seems like it would often be practical? My memory is that it was at the Quad campus, which has four nearly identical buildings, and we used part of one of the four? I attended a bunch of internal conferences at Google, and while none of those were quite as big as we're talking about there were a range of different spaces. Less sure about this in the future. Harvard is pretty big: we were using maybe half the Science Center. I'd expect many universities to have some place large enough for a 1500 person gathering? For Harvard, maybe Klarman Hall? But in Boston it's probably cheaper to go with one of the less fancy universities.

I do wanna note, I thought the experience of using the google campus was much worse than many other EAGs I've been at – having to walk 5-10 minutes over to another part of the campus, hope that anyone else had shown up to the event I wanted to go to (which they often hadn't) eventually left me with a learned helpnessness about trying to do anything.

I experienced this at EAG London 2022 as well, as that event was spread out over multiple buildings and streets.
There are EAs at lots of different companies/universities, but they don't work for CEA itself. Perhaps we should be asking around to see if we could still pull this off, but I do expect coordinating with an external party to be kinda tricky and unreliable (e.g. when we used UC Berkeley, the university really didn't want to talk to anyone at CEA other than the student in question).  I also have reservations about working with something that's not an explicit venue-for-hire — I expect their staff to not be experienced at things like working with AV, catering, loading and unloading policies, and so on (example annoying scenario: we randomly get kicked out at 8pm because that's when the security team close everything down but this was never communicated to us even when we asked about it). I'm not too sure about the Google campus, and perhaps we should look into this further. I do think lots of these options would involve multiple different spaces separated by ~10 minute walks. This might be fine for veteran EAs but might come across as wacky to any more external experts we were trying to engage with. For the Harvard campus, my understanding is that the Science Center couldn't stretch to much more than a thousand. But yes in theory we could use multiple venues across the campus — this would likely involve coordinating and contracting with multiple parties (often the venues are managed by different groups) which is possible but not trivial. Klarman Hall appears to just be a large theater — generally schools are great at offering those but tend to be lacking in large networking/catering spaces. However if any of the above options would be sufficiently cheap, then these downsides might be worth it, and I take your point about exploring more unconventional venue setups if it would save money (this is something that we're planning to explore in the future).

Thanks! I appreciate you taking my questions, and I apologize for being somewhat out of touch here -- I haven't attended an EAG since Boston in 2017 and I've heard they've changed a lot.

I talked some yesterday with a friend who works in venue negotiation for conferences (mostly on the hotel side, though) and in addition to the four places you mentioned other Bay Area places he thought might work included: Fort Mason, Moscone (too big, but commonly split), Yerba Buena (but looking now seems too small), and the South San Francisco Conference Center.

(Fine to stop engaging if I'm not being helpful)

No problem, all good! Re those venues:

  • Fort Mason kinda works but has a similar issue of having lots of spaces kinda spread out over a wider area (some of which are kinda hard to find). The main networking area it has is the Festival Pavilion, which is huge but is also just an empty warehouse and would probably need to be built out a bit with lighting and furniture. This venue is weird and annoying enough that I'd only go for it if it was notably cheaper, but my understanding is that it's sort of similarly expensive to some of our other options.
  • Moscone is great but yeah it's too big. To host an event there you need to commit to something like >1000 hotel rooms at their partner hotels. As you mention, you can apparently split the venue or like sub-let out rooms if a bigger event is going on. We tried investigating this for 2024 but it seemed risky (you'd sort of be at the larger events whim, and perhaps only getting confirmation very close to the dates themselves). I would be keen to investigate this further, but my guess is that it's not likely to be worth it (unless our event got much bigger).
  • Yerba Buena is too small as you suggest.
  • South San Francisco Conference Center is also a
... (read more)
Nathan Young
Are the agglomeration effects such that it's better to run a much more expensive 1500 person event rather than 3 500 person events which cost less? Maybe they wouldn't actually cost less?
It's still a bit unclear to me at this point whether a 1500 person event would cost less per person than three 500 person events. My current sense is that it is, but I don't have massive confidence in our investigations here. Re agglomeration effects, I think basically yes it's better to run a larger event all things equal — the main benefits that come to mind are staff time and making it easier for people to coordinate and meet in larger groups (i.e. everyone you want to meet is going to the same event).
Narrowly scoped response: Harvard (primarily science center but spread to a variety of buildings a <5 min walk north) hosts a multiple-day event with over 1000 attendees every year. That event has costs that are much much much lower than what you stated here, but I have no idea if the Science Center would be willing to work with an external client.

Is this just a guess or do you have information on the actual costs of the event? (Just from their website, they seem to have various sponsors who are likely covering a substantial amount of the costs, and yes, their venue costs might be very low (or even close to zero) because Harvard/MIT are likely not charging them commercial rates, but that doesn't give any info of the actual costs and why they would be lower than EAG costs.)

Yes I know the exact costs (from a few years ago), happy to DM. They're charged the rate for internal use of the venue, but "internal" effectively means "there is a formal group at Harvard that plays an organizing role in your event"
Yeah, that makes sense. I guess the main conclusion of this is: You can run an event much cheaper of you find an organisation that has a good event space and collaborates with you, so they charge the 'internal' rather than the commercial rate.

We’re still working out the details, but we also expect to raise default ticket prices. That is, instead of people paying $200 for a ticket that costs us $1500, they’ll be paying maybe $500 for a ticket that costs us $1000.

I’m concerned this change will contribute to making EA more insular by raising the costs of becoming engaged with the community. $200 instead of free means people only go if they’re serious, but $500 feels like a real chunk of money, and may be particularly hard to justify for people who aren't already highly engaged.

One possible remedy here would be to also give discounted tickets to first-timers.

I share your concern, but I think it would be more than offset by the competition with EAGx. My understanding from the dashboard, and from personal experience, is that EAGx has roughly the same value as EAG for first-timers (and many/most non first-timers) while being ~3x more cost-efficient. (If you went to both, would you rather pay $2k to go to an EAG or $600 to go to an EAGx as a first timer?)

I think this is good also because EAGx are mostly organized by different community members and national groups staff, so different groups could try different strategies and we could see what works best (e.g. minimize printing, have the many bored idle volunteers record talks with their phones instead of paying thousands per recorded talk, ...)
It might also help move EA towards being more of a do-ocracy and less of an "EV-ocracy".

Another great advantage imho is that people and community builders would be more mindful of other opportunities, or even try to start alternatives to EAGs, that have been crowded out by the current subsidies.

Thanks for this comment, all seems basically right (I run the EAGx programme).

different groups could try different strategies and we could see what works best (e.g. minimize printing, have the many bored idle volunteers record talks with their phones instead of paying thousands per recorded talk, ...)

Yes, we do exactly this (EAGxNYC recorded talks on phones, in fact). We've even had a few instances where an EAGx team tried something, it worked really well and then EAG incorporated it. One example is that EAGxBerlin 2022 put up posters with contact information for the community health support team, which attendees appreciated and which EAG copied.

Nathan Young
Feels like there could be some way to offer subsidy here. But it does seem good for the costs of things to be properly subsidised. If the benefit of one's first EAG is higher then maybe there could be a first EAG subsidy.
Hmm, I was thinking not that the benefits of the first one would be higher, but that people will more likely underestimate the benefits before they go to the first one.
Nathan Young
Seems fixable in the same way, right?

This is sideways to the main point in the post, but I'm interested in a ticket type that's just "Swapcard / unsupported virtual attendee" where accepted people just get access to Swapcard, which lets them schedule 1-1 online videoconferencing, and that's it.

I find a lot of the value of EAG is in 1-1s, and I'd hope that this would be an option where virtual attendees can get potentially lots of networking value for very little cost.

(Asking because I don't want to pay a lot of money to attend an EAG where I'd mostly be taking on a mentor role, but I would potentially be happy to do some online 1-1s with people during a Schelling time.)

Update: Just learned about EAGxVirtual, which seems very relevant!

This feels like a "be the change you want to see in the world" moment. If you want such an event, it seems like you could basically just make a forum post (or quick take) offering 1:1s?
That seems much less good than appearing in the SwapCard list of attendees where everyone is scheduling 1:1s already, but I agree that a cheap version of the thing here is very doable even without SwapCard

Have you considered cutting down on EAG attendees overall by reducing the proportion of AI-Safety participants, and instead hosting (or support others doing so) large AI-Safety only conferences?

These in turn could be subsidized by industry - yes, this can be a huge conflict of interest, but given the huge cost on the one hand and the revenue in AI on the other, could be worth consideration.

I think the idea of having AI safety conferences makes sense, but I think it would be a pretty bad idea for these conferences to be subsidized by industry. Insofar as we want to work with industry on AI safety related stuff, I think there's a lot of other stuff ahead of conferences that both: a) industry would be more excited about subsidizing, and b) I'd worry less about the COI leading to bad effects. (For instance, industry subsidies for mechanistic interpretability research.)

Thanks for sharing this!

We looked a bit at running our events in other locations or further out from cities. Generally things didn’t seem sufficiently cheaper but this is something we’d like to explore further. I do also think there’s a fairly substantial cost to running our events in non-hub locations, because some of the best-networked people in the community (people who can provide mentorship, advice, funding, and so on) will be much less likely to attend. It would also take more time and travel costs for non-local people to attend, reducing the appeal of doing an event outside of a hub.

I believe you that this is the case, but I'm also curious as to why. At least in the private sector, more senior people (and even junior people) seem to spend a lot of their time traveling, to meet clients, do deals, visit conferences, and so on. And similarly academics seem happy to fly quite a long way to go to conferences. In fact attending conferences or offsites is often seen as a perk. So I don't quite understand why senior EAs seem so averse to flying to Vegas or Atlanta. Do EA employers not let people expense the travel?

I'm not sure I count as 'senior', but I could understand some reluctance even if 'all expenses paid'. 

I consider my EAG(x) participation as an act of community service. Although there are diffuse benefits, I do not get that much out of it myself, professionally speaking. This is not that surprising: contacts at EAG (or knowledge at EAG, etc. etc.) matter a lot less on the margin of several years spent working in the field than just starting out. I spend most of my time at EAG trying to be helpful - typically, through the medium of several hours of 1-1s each day. I find this fulfilling, but not leisurely.  

So from the selfish perspective EAG feels pretty marginal either re. 'professional development' or 'fun'. I'd guess many could be dissuaded by small frictions. Non-hub locations probably fit the bill: "Oh, I could visit [hub] for EAG, and meet my professional contacts in [hub] whilst I'm in town" is a lot more tempting to the minds eye than a dedicated trip for EAG alone.

Speaking for myself, my org would definitely be happy to reimburse travel. But I very much dislike travelling for a number of reasons including travel time and jet lag increasing the cost significantly. I don't want to be away from my family longer than necessary, in part because I already optimise fairly strongly for working long hours. So I'm most likely to go to EAGs nearby. Like Greg, going to another EA hub has advantages that sometimes offset the cost of needing to travel for me.

I currently work at a large EA-ish org that allows me to fully expense EAG travel and I (like some of the other commenters) am pretty strongly in the "prefer hub" camp. Like lots of EAs, I try to intensely optimize my time, and I'd prefer to optimize for work and play separately (so I would prefer to focus on work when going to EAGs, then separately take vacations optimized for being fun for me, e.g. by being in a place that's a great fit for me and my primary partner). I am happy to travel occasionally if there's a strong impact justification, but don't want CEA trying to influence me to do travel for fun at a location and time it picks. In my experience, EAs in general are more intense about their time and possibly less into travel than most people in academia.  Even if you assume everyone would go, I don't think it's a clear win. I think a lot of professionals in the space place a lot of value on an hour of their labor; if they value it at $100/hour (i.e. equivalent to $200k/year in donations), and you make them travel e.g. 12 hours roundtrip to get to a conference location, and that affects 300 attendees who would otherwise have had reasonable in-city daily commutes, that's $360k-equivalent added (though in reality I agree many just wouldn't go, and some would also do the vacation thing so this would funge against hours they'd spend traveling for vacation anyway). Then additionally, you have EA orgs paying the travel costs themselves, which maybe looks better for CEA but is the same to EA funders (though maybe some people can also expense it to non-EA orgs?). If the orgs are paying $1000 per person (let's say $400 on travel, $450 for 3 nights of hotel rooms at $150/night, the rest for meals and other incidental expenses) and 300 more people need to travel than otherwise would if the EAG were in a hub area, that's another $300k. Also, CEA staff probably benefit from specialist knowledge of cities they often run EAGs in, so either they are stuck in the same non-
Steven Byrnes
There’s a school of thought that academics travel much much more than optimal or healthy. See Cal Newport’s Deep Work, where he cites a claim that it’s “typical for junior faculty to travel twelve to twenty-four times a year”, and compares that to Radhika Nagpal’s blog post The Awesomest 7-Year Postdoc or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Tenure-Track Faculty Life which says: The author of that post wound up getting tenure at Harvard on schedule, and then getting further promoted to full professor unusually fast. Anyway, for my part, I have little kids, so traveling is a burden on my family, in addition to sucking up a surprising amount of time / energy (much more than you would think just the nominal travel time, because there’s also booking & planning, packing & unpacking, catching up on chores and sleep and taking notes afterwards, etc.). Big opportunity cost.

How much above the catering minimum spend are EAGs? What would spending the minimum look like?

Non-EA conferences I attend (academic ones mostly) typically don't have any food or drink except lunch, coffee, and maybe some biscuits. If you want more food than that you (as an attendee) bring it with, which is clearly much cheaper because it isn't ridiculously marked-up.

It depends on the venue, but for EAG Boston for example the food and beverage minimum spend is $540k, and we're planning to spend just a bit over this (we may go higher if more attendees end up registering). I'm not sure how those academic conferences work — it's possible that they take place in venues without in-house caterers or that they pay more up front to avoid a minimum spend. Because we usually get a minimum spend, attendees aren't allowed to bring in their own food unless they have serious allergies (though of course people might still bring in their own food covertly).
These academic conferences likely take place at universities which likely won't have any minimum spend requirements (at least for internal events).

Hi Eli, thanks for this update. 

On the particular point of cutting the number of sessions you record, I wanted to quickly mention:

1. You say that the videos have few views, but maybe that is also due to a lack of advertisement? I recall finding the Youtube channel after having been involved in EA for quite a bit -- nobody had ever mentioned it to me as a good source of info. Now I'm a regular viewer (see also point 2).
2. I have the cached heuristic that you record most of the content on the primary+secondary stages, which I believe reduces quite a bit of my FOMO, so probably not having the anticipated recordings to watch later would make me have a couple fewer 1on1s, to be able to watch the talks live. Not sure how common this is, but should maybe be a factor in the calculation of (impact) cost.
3. The videos are also particularly useful for staying kind of up to date with things that are not in my immediate cause areas. These talks do not cross my bar for impact to attend at the event directly (because they likely won't guide any actions of mine), but are great to watch over dinner to not feel like I'm becoming an "AI-EA", but instead still engaged with other parts of the community.

(as an independent aside, fwiw, the cost category that has the highest delta to my expectations, in relative terms, are the 100k Printing and signage costs. The maps are always really professional and pretty, sure, but wow!)

Thanks for your thoughts here! It is true that we haven't advertised our content much and could possibly get more views if we did. We are planning to do more here, but we estimated that we'd have to really get a lot more views for it to be worth it (recording each stage costs ~$50k) and we expect we won't succeed in getting the videos that much exposure. And we considered your second (and third to some extent) points when making a decision here but still concluded we should cut back at this time. Re the printing and signage — I'll note that EAG London was something of an outlier here because the venue we used is a Grade I listed building (i.e. a building designated of architectural/historical interest and hence worthy of protection). This meant that we couldn't stick anything on any of the walls and so we had to spend more money on other types of free-standing signage.
Also, one other thing we're thinking about here is trying to memorialize content in other (cheaper) ways, like having the talks written up as Forum posts.
Coming from the "Chaos", the recording quality on media.ccc.de for bigger events is often higher than that of EAG(x) recordings. (E.g. small details like normalizing / boosting audio levels.) That makes a large difference in the "watchability" of recordings. I agree that the talks being recorded has a huge impact on my behavior during events – e.g. at CCC events, if a talk is being recorded I generally don't bother trying to go there in person unless I'm really interested. Watching it later at home is easy / possibly more convenient than at the event (no standing in line, no crowd noise in the room, known good recording quality), while talking to the people at the con can't really happen later. (E.g. at the last Chaos Communication Camp just a few weeks ago, I checked the schedule ahead of time, picked 4 events for "maybe live attendance", then went to none. By my current estimate, I'll probably watch about 20-30% of the recordings over the next weeks / months at least partially – don't have to stay / keep watching if I'm not interested.)
I too agree that recording the talks is great, and affects behaviour. One way to save costs could be to record the talks ahead of time (on Zoom). Reduce the costs of huge halls and recording infra in one go!
Zoom is not a good way to record talks. (Compressed audio and bad picture quality / often just using a cheap webcam makes for a bad experience. I often have trouble understanding low-quality recordings or streams, and might as well skip that.) Small changes in any one category can make a huge difference in the result – so e.g. even with a good camera, not enough light will produce bad results. (See e.g. this recording – knowledgeable people, good equipment, etc., but not enough light in the room. Grainy image, looks slightly blurry even if properly focused. Throwing a bunch of extra lights in the room would fix it, but we didn't get around to it yet… there's other more pressing problems.) So even if you go the "no live talks in person" route and skip big halls, you do want a decent recording studio. (Good light, sane sound design, proper equipment, one or two people that know what they're doing.) Having your own team (like the VOC at CCC events) is good for consistency (same people, same setup, very similar quality results) and can make sense if there's sufficiently many things to record. Not sure if EA is already in that category, probably hiring local A/V techs & equip per event is still cheaper.

Is my impression correct that EAGxs tend to cost vastly less than this? If so, what explains the difference? (EAGxCambridge cost around $0.25M, and I think other ones had smaller budgets?)

If it's that larger venues cost more in a super-linear way, that suggests having more and smaller events.

My understanding is that EAGxCambridge got an unusually cheap venue and as such was unusually cheap overall (it also only had ~500 attendees compared to 1000–1500 for EAGs). Other EAGx's often have quite small budgets because they're often held in countries that are much cheaper to hold events (and they also have fewer attendees). Historically, EAGx's have also been scrappier and not been of as high production value — but I expect the gap to close here somewhat moving forwards. It's not obvious to me whether larger venues cost more in a super-linear way, this is something I'm still confused about, but I expect it to not be the case overall.

Having just gone to EAGxNYC, I'd be really alarmed if I walked into an EAG and it had higher production value than that. The chairs were so many different-but-coordinated styles. There was Listerine and contact lens fluid in the bathrooms. The soap was from a perfume house! 

Yes, EAGxNYC was definitely higher production value than EAGxCambridge and many others. It probably was ~EAG-level production value. The venue was surprisingly cheap for such a central location, given the amenities.
Spencer Ericson
Good to know, thanks! I've only been to EAGxNYC and EAGxBerkeley so far, so this is useful to help me calibrate. I did feel like it was fancier than we needed it to be. I loved it, it was a great experience! But now that I know how great it is to have Listerine at conferences, I feel like I can bring my own for cheap. I'd also be happy enough to see like, instant oatmeal next to a kettle for breakfast. "Bring your own lunch/dinner," especially if the venue was down the road from a market. I'm a foodie for sure, and there is something important about showing people that vegan catering can be awesome. Good food is a big part of what turned me vegan. But it also makes me feel weird to see the EA community pampering me. It was, however, important to me that it was in a central location. Living in Canada, any conference that I go to is probably going to be a travel situation. I don't have a license (in any country), so I wouldn't be able to rent a car if it was like, in the suburbs.

Encourage you to revisit the idea of venues in smaller/less expensive cities. In addition to lower venue costs this imposes much lower accomodation costs on participants or their organizations.

May also have good signaling benefits and attract people who may be underrepresented in the usual EA “bubble”. See all the posts discussing why Oxford, Boston, and SF bay should not be the main/only hubs for further arguments.

Also may allow larger quieter more relaxed spaces enabling calmer conversations and impromptu meetings and work sessions on and off site.

Friends of mine rented a venue for 1200+ people for a weekend in a central location in Germany for some €60k iirc. There was no catering, but we were allowed to buy food at nearby diners (with great vegan options) and bring it into the venue.

Do the practices around forcing catering companies on organizers maybe vary by countries, so that EAGs could move to nearby countries where the venues are cheaper and more chill? Maybe countries with smooth air and rail connections from (e.g.) London?

There’s also the Zuzalu model. Zuzalu itself may be an option. Or something similar closer to the UK, maybe in France, Germany, Poland, or the Czech Republic. In many cases you’ll be able to just interview the EAGx organizers in those regions to figure out what the costs and customs are around catering. That would increase the cost for travel compensations a bit but probably reduce the other costs much more.

I vaguely remember that Eunkyoung Kwon of the ICNK (at the time at least?) was able to organize a great number of tiny conferences in many countries at no extra cost. Not the right scale for EAGs, but if EAGs should get replaced with single-topic conferences at some point, maybe some should ask her for her secrets.

I think part of the disconnect, from my perspective, is that I have experience with small scrappy conventions that deliver good talks and an enjoyable time and a large central room where people can mingle. The scrappier science-fiction conventions seem to charge in the range of $60-$120, usually on the lower side, and, while relying very heavily on volunteer labor and physical assets, about break even. The fancier ones might charge $250/person/weekend. That's not the true price, since it excludes what dealers pay for access, advertising, etc. But my sense of con budgets is that it is at least half of the true price.

Obviously a large chunk of that is the $240 on food that you're spending and they're not. Another chunk of the cost is location: said cons tend to be out in the boonies of their relevant cities, passing along to attendees costs of travel or increased hotel prices.

The context that non-profit conventions tend to be $400+ is helpful: thank you. I really appreciate the transparency.

This is a pretty minor thing: I'm not sure to what extent the CEA events team is aware of (or members of?) Meeting Professionals International, but I just learned about them recently and it might be worth seeing if they have best practices, training, or just general suggestions regarding running events.

Thanks — and yep we're aware of them! We haven't gained much from their information previously though perhaps could be digging deeper here.

How about reducing the number of catered meals while increasing support for meals outside the venue? Silly example: someone could fill a hotel room with Soylent so that everyone can grab liquid meals and go chat somewhere--sort of a "baguettes and hummus" vibe. Or as @Matt_Sharp pointed out, we could reserve nearby restaurants. No idea if these exact plans are feasible, but I can imagine similarly scrappy solutions going well if planned by actual logistics experts.

Thanks so much for your work and this information!

No problem, thanks for your thoughts here! I'll note that in venues where we have a minimum spend, attendees aren't allowed to bring outside food into the venue unless they have serious allergies. So if we did hand out Soylent/snacks somewhere else, they'd have to consume this on the street or something (which may be a disaster if it's raining or cold). Re reserving nearby restaurants — we did this at EAG Bay Area and plan to do it again in the future (we just reserved some restaurant tables but had attendees pay for their own meals). If we were to actually plan meals/do catering at multiple nearby restaurants, that would likely be a lot of work on our end and we probably wouldn't have capacity to pull it off well.
Renting out nearby restaurants seems like plausibly a good idea, though, a) that might also be quite expensive, so I'm not sure we'd actually save on costs, and b) the logistical overhead on figuring that out could be large.
I took ‘reserve’ to mean ‘book reservations at’, which is usually free, though may require a deposit at certain size bookings?

Thanks to @Eli_Nathan for responding to all these, though I hope you don't feel obliged to do so.

@MichaelPlant makes a good case that the right way to think of these is that attendance has a large positive externality - that it creates a lot more benefit to the world at large than to attendees themselves.

In this sense, increasing the price presumably suggests that CEAs funders don't believe the externality is as large as they used to or that the funding bar has gone up, or both. 

It seems that explicitly thinking about it in these terms is useful:

  • Orgs
... (read more)
Re your second bullet, a large part of it is that one of the two people in a new connection may be financial unempowered. That is, they're a student or other early career person who isn't really able to spend much money on anything (this represents a lot of our attendees and is where philanthropy can jump in to fill the gap).
Nathan Young
Though surely much of their benefit is meeting attendees who are well-connected/experts. I guess if it turns out the price increase dissuades the latter group, it may need a rethink.
Yeah that's right, I wouldn't want to raise the prices so much such that more senior folk/experts are put off (especially as they might be providing value, and as such it might feel weird to them to have to pay for that). Right now I expect we'll have a variety of ticket prices with optional discounts for those who need them, so I'm not too worried about more senior folks getting priced out here.
Nathan Young
Seems like you're going great work on this. If anything sounds like you folks should weigh your inside view more.
It seems likely to me that the externality is likely to be larger earlier on in a social movement than as it becomes more established.

on the other end of the spectrum we may ask some people to pay for their ticket price in its entirety


I'm wondering how this is going to work logistically. Will CEA ask everyone to report their income, and anyone who isn't comfortable reporting it is assumed to be rich enough that they have to pay the entire cost? This outcome feels like it would be invasive. Is instead CEA going to just ask those who are publicly known to be well off to pay the entire cost? This would presumably only raise a small amount of money, and I'd worry that it would make those people who it applied to feel like they were somewhat arbitrarily being nickled-and-dimed and rub them the wrong way.

Thinking this through for a minute, it seems like the obvious answer would be: let people choose either (say) $500 ticket price or $1,000, and also have a note saying "If your annual income is above XYZ, we would like to ask you to choose $1,000, though this will be done on an honor-code basis. If your income is below XYZ, feel free to choose either option" (or something like that)

Yep — this is basically my preferred option right now for what we should do (transparent options/honor-code basis).

AV cost surprised me. I think I’m on board with using less professional AB but I would hate to see fewer sessions recorded. This seems like a false economy. If few people are watching or listening to them, it might be because they are not promoted well … If they could be made prominent and easily accessible, and even offer comment spaces that the speakers respond to, I think this Could add a lot of value and substitute for conference attendance for some people

And some speakers/orgs might be willing to subsidise av and av editing production costs for their own sessions. It’s something they can link to on their website for promo, onboarding etc.

Wow venues seem really expensive! It might be cheaper to acquire large tracts of real estate just for running large events. For instance Italy is giving away free castles to people willing to upkeep them and use them for some public, productive purpose.

they’ll be paying maybe $500 for a ticket that costs us $1000.

There may be room for more effective price discrimination here. When one buys a ticket to EAG from a corporation that is not price sensitive, ideally they would pay (at least) the complete cost of their admission. I recall their being tiers beyond "full price" - to sponsor other attendees - but this would not be a legitimate corporate expense. Could there be an easy way for corporate attendees to pay the full price?

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