SXSW organizers ordered to cancel festival over coronavirus concerns
SXSW finally canceled its 2020 festival days before its scheduled March 13 kickoff, after a mounting number of brands and musicians had pulled out due to the coronavirus outbreak.
"The City of Austin has canceled the March dates for SXSW," an online statement from the festival read on Friday evening. "SXSW will faithfully follow the City's directions. We are devastated to share this news with you."
The statement goes on to say SXSW holds "'The show must go on'" mantra "in our DNA, and this is the first time in 34 years that the March event will not take place." The festival said it will explore options to reschedule the event as well as "provide a virtual SXSW online experience as soon as possible."
SXSW did not say whether it will be providing any refunds.
"We understand the gravity of the situation for all the creatives who utilize SXSW to accelerate their careers; for the global businesses; and for Austin and the hundreds of small businesses — venues, theatres, vendors, production companies, service industry staff, and other partners that rely so heavily on the increased business that SXSW attracts," the statement said.
Last year the two-week event drew more than 417,000 visitors from 106 countries, according to SXSW organizers. The confab brought an estimated $356 million to the city's economy.
“The economic impact to the entire city is pretty substantial, and that is really going to hurt,” says Manny Flores, CEO of Austin-based ad agency Third Ear, whose client is Visit Austin, the city’s tourism and convention bureau. "You can’t have another SXSW later in the year … you just can’t make it up, it’s money that is gone forever, it’s tough, it’s hard.”
But he said city leaders made the move “for the right reasons...this thing is the real deal.”
Like other ad agencies, Third Ear (formerly called LatinWorks) is taking its own precautions. The shop’s media department will soon begin working from home, which Flores described as a “dry run” to see how it works in the event that the agency decides to have everyone work from home.
The decision follows a Wednesday press conference in which Austin Public Health said the show was still on. "We have no evidence that closing SXSW or other activities would make this community safer," Dr. Mark Escott, medical director for Austin Public Health, said at the time.
Escott had said SXSW organizers put in place several measures to keep attendees safe, like screening all employees to ensure they are not ill before working; providing additional hand-washing stations and hand sanitizers; and placing signs around the festival to remind people to practice proper hygiene. Escott said Austin Public Health was also assessing ways to “lessen social contact" by possibly reducing the number of people allowed in venues.
“Panic will weaken us,” Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said on Wednesday. “Let's practice what our [mothers] taught us: let’s cover our sneezes, let’s wash our hands and let's be good neighbors. Keep calm and carry on, y'all.”
It is unclear exactly what changed but SXSW said in today's statement that the "situation evolved rapidly, and we honor and respect the City of Austin's decision. We are committed to do our part to help protect our staff, attendees and fellow Austinites."
The decision follows a number of brands having pulled out of the festival amid coronavirus concerns including Twitter, Facebook, Apple, Netflix, IBM, Intel, TikTok, Vevo, Mashable and WarnerMedia, including HBO. Musicians like Trent Reznor and Ozzy Osbourne also announced their plans to cancel appearances at the tech, music and film fest.
"We will continue to work hard to bring you the unique events you love," SXSW concluded. "Though it’s true that our March 2020 event will no longer take place in the way that we intended, we continue to strive toward our purpose—helping creative people achieve their goals."
The full statement follows below:
Contributing: E.J. Schultz