Event attendance and sponsorship impacted by the downturn and pandemic


People raise hands to speaker at a conference event

For Devoxx UK, numbers this year are looking good but other conference organisers are reporting lower numbers both of attendees and sponsors.

In a time where the tech industry is still emerging from a global pandemic and funding is tight for many teams, what does this mean for developer conferences and how DevRel teams engage with events?

How does this affect developer event organisers?

Mark Hazell, organiser of Devoxx UK, states that attendee figures for his event have returned to pre-pandemic levels. Nevertheless, he shares that it has been a long, difficult journey to get there. The combination of an economic downturn in tech and the post-pandemic climate has impacted attendance across developer targeted events.

“The economic downturn means that household names that would normally always be at these developer conferences are now fighting with budgets. The prospect of making people redundant means that there is no space for sponsoring or attending events.”

Mark notes that there are three main challenges for event organisers such as himself:

  • Downward pressure on ticket and sponsorship prices
  • Higher expectations of value as both attendees and sponsors reduce the number of events they engage with and so must get more from those they do
  • Speakers who were booked to participate when they were working for one company then cancelling when they are impacted by layoffs

Some good news, perhaps, is that the lack of household names taking sponsorships has made way for smaller companies.

Change in attendee pattern, change of strategy

Ane-Sophie Custura, Head of Marketing at GoTo Conferences at Trifork, reports that the company has seen a change in attendee patterns. This has meant that the organisation has often had to adapt its methods of convincing people to attend conferences. In her view, the world has become so hybrid that meeting face-to-face no longer seems a necessity. That said, attendee figures are still looking good for Trifork’s events.

“Luckily our audience sees the great value of meeting in person and getting together for a ‘real’ chat, rather than consuming everything from behind a screen”.

How does this affect DevRel professionals?

While some predicted that events would return to normal after the pandemic, the tech finance downturn has swapped public health concerns for budget limitations instead. That means that many of the techniques that DevRel teams developed during the lockdowns are now continuing in order to cater to a world where travel is at a premium.

So, if DevRel teams don’t have the same level of budget for events and, also, some events are seeing lower attendance numbers, does that mean events are over for DevRel?

Well, probably not. But the current challenges appear to be:

  • Making budget go further when it is available
  • Showing how sponsorships and event attendance are more valuable than other activities
  • Finding ways to make online events recreate the spontaneity and social side of in-person events

However, the economic downturn has not affected all developer targeted events in the same way.


LeadDev conducted a recent survey of 500 software engineers across the globe in March 2023. It evaluated the impact of the downturn on learning and development budgets. Despite rounds of layoffs and growing economic concerns, the survey showed that software engineer learning and development budgets at the companies of most of the respondents have yet to be affected.

  • While impacted by the downturn, 85% are still investing.
  • Just 16% of learning and skills development budgets have been cut over the past six months.
  • 56% had the same budget available for learning and skills development as six months before. 7% had more.
  • As regards recent layoffs and hiring freezes, 38% of survey respondents had been directly impacted already. A further 29% hadn’t been impacted but were concerned nonetheless. In contrast, only 19% expressed no concern at all.

Ruth Yarnit, CEO and co-founder of LeadDev, says that year on year audience numbers were up for LeadDev New York conferences in March. There was also unprecedented demand for sponsorship, which sold out. The same is predicted for LeadDev London. It is predicted that audience numbers will be up around 25% on 2022, with a similar boost in sponsorship demand.

“At LeadDev we’re now feeling cautiously optimistic that in a downturn our audience understands that the key to doing more with less is focusing on great management and leadership. And our sponsorship partners that also address these changing needs have been getting great results from our events.”

Linux Foundation

For Angela Brown, Senior Vice President at the Linux Foundation, the results vary. She shares that there are certainly lower numbers at some events, but not at others. The foundation’s upcoming KubeCon + CloudNativeCon Europe conference has almost 11,000 attendees registered and over 200 sponsors. Both are record numbers for the event.

Angela explains that lower attendance numbers have tended to be in North America. This is specifically at events that have traditionally attracted large enterprise technology companies who have been going through layoffs over the last six months; many of whom still have travel freezes in place.

“Overall though, we’re still seeing good numbers as new attendees and companies emerge. I think the frustration is that most of us hoped we’d return to 2019 numbers once Covid was ‘over’. It’s been much more complicated than that due to a number of factors. That said, we’re still feeling good about the overall numbers across our events.”

So, what are we left with?

Perhaps the pandemic exposed DevRel’s over-reliance on conferences. Matthew Revell from Hoopy sees it this way, “Before the pandemic, it was already clear that developer advocates hanging out in airline lounges and burning aviation fuel to speak to a handful of developers at increasingly niche events was unsustainable. Among all the awful impacts of the pandemic, it forced DevRel teams to reconsider how to reach and serve their target audiences. The lessons learned in that time weren’t going to disappear just because air travel opened up again.”

To get more views on how DevRel and conferences go together in 2023, check out our roundtable: Looking Ahead to Conference Season.


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