UPDATE: On late Friday, Austin city officials and SXSW organizers announced that the festival would be canceled in the face of the outbreak.
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SXSW attendees spend big money to be part of the action in Austin, Texas. Now that money may be wasted as mounting numbers of attendees and exhibitors bail amid the coronavirus panic.
On Friday, SXSW organizers remained committed to hosting the show despite the exodus. Executives that are still attending as well as executives from companies that have pulled out say that SXSW is not likely offering refunds. That could amount to tens of thousands of dollars just for lost rented space at the convention center or for expensive signage that no one ends up seeing.
A SXSW pitch deck obtained by Ad Age on Friday, shows exactly what's at stake. A prominent booth at SXSW costs $135,000 for the deluxe set-up. It costs $43,000 to place a logo on shirts worn by festival volunteers, according to the pitch deck.
The costs of these exhibits are factoring into brands’ decisions on whether to attend or not, according to conference-goers and advertising agency insiders. Companies are weighing how much they can recoup if they have already poured money into attending versus the risks of being seen at the epicenter of a potential public relations nightmare.
So far, major companies have pulled out, including Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, Vevo and WarnerMedia. WarnerMedia owns CNN, which canceled its SXSW house on Friday. Twitter also canceled a house. Universal Music Group advised employees against attending SXSW. The companies would not comment beyond their public statements about canceling.
A number of executives from companies attending SXSW and from companies that canceled spoke on condition of anonymity for this story. These people say that there would be no refunds.