Pleading hardship, SXSW honors badges for future festivals but no full refunds
The organizers behind South By Southwest have sent out a distress call about its financial health after the festival was canceled due to the coronavirus outbreak, now a pandemic.
On Thursday, SXSW officials responded finally to calls for refunds, at least as it pertains to entrance badges that cost hundreds of dollars. The organizers said that the event does not have a policy of issuing refunds under any circumstances, but it will allow attendees to apply unclaimed passes from 2020 to coming years.
Organizers explained that the festival was on the brink of financial ruin and said that it had to lay off workers. “Given financial factors that came to light very quickly, we were required to go where the company didn’t want to,” SXSW posted to its website. “We needed to cut costs immediately to survive, which regretfully required reducing staff. It is heart-wrenching for everyone, and we are not the same today.”
Last week, SXSW was shut down after officials from its host city Austin, Texas, decided the health risks were too great. The world is coping with a coronavirus, COVID-19, pandemic, a virus that has led to a national state of emergency in the U.S. The tech, music and film festival was set to take place March 13-22 and for weeks leading up to the event, organizers had tried to keep the doors open.
Ultimately, they could not, which has left would-be attendees scrambling to recoup some of their investments in hotels, flights, restaurants, venues and payments to SXSW directly.
A booth at the Austin Convention Center for major presenters cost up to $135,000. Badges cost between $500 and about $1,500, depending on the tier of access.
There have been questions about how SXSW would make amends with its largest partners. Companies like Twitter, Google, Facebook, Mashable, Patreon and more had planned events around the city, as they do every year.
The Austin Chronicle has reported that insurance would not cover SXSW’s cancellation over the virus, even though the city declared a state of emergency, forcing the closure. The festival’s terms of service make clear that it does not issue refunds under any scenarios.
However, on Thursday, organizers promised that badge-holders could use them for access in either 2021, 2022 or 2023. Also, the festival would give those attendees an additional year’s entrance fee at a 50 percent discount.
For at least one would-be attendee, the compensation did not go far enough. “I think they should have offered people the opportunity of a refund if they wanted it, or the badge for next year and 50 percent off the year after,” says one marketing executive, who spoke with Ad Age on condition of anonymity. “At least let people choose.”
As for the festival’s prospects this year, SXSW has been working with some partners to conduct livestreams of panels that would have been held at the convention center.
On Friday, at least one panel was coming together. U.S. government officials planned to conduct a SXSW talk called “Innovating With Open Government Data” through a webinar on Monday at 4:30 p.m. EST. The talk is set to include Amy Edwards, deputy assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of the Treasury.
Patreon, one of the tech companies that had planned to rent a SXSW house, will stream an event on Wednesday from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. EST. It’s being billed as a “weird-stream-a-thon” to raise money for Patreon creators. Patreon is a platform that helps digital video makers and other creators to raise money from their fan bases.
Independent creators and artists are among those that have been the hardest hit by the cancellation of SXSW. The festival is often a place for them to promote their businesses and artwork.
Patreon says the livestream event is “a way to bring the content we had planned for SXSW to a larger audience.”