During a press event this afternoon, Mayor Steve Adler stood alongside public health officials and Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt to address festivals and events this spring, now that COVID-19 has been confirmed in Texas, and 14 people in the U.S. have already died.
Adler and his team issued an order to protect the public, effectively cancelling the SXSW event, after appearing to have initially dug in their heels and refusing to do so and standing by the gigantic event.
SXSW is a massive economic boom for the city, bringing in $356 million last year from over 400,000 attendees flying in from all over the world.
We reported earlier this week on the popular petition to shut the massive conference down, and supported the notion that the risk to the public of bringing in hundreds of thousands of unscreened people into the city was a mistake.
Cancelling SXSW didn’t seem to be an option until Twitter nixed travel for all employees meant they were pulling out their attendance, panel speakers, and sponsorship.
It was the first domino to fall.
The next dominoes were Apple, Amazon, Intel, Facebook, Mashable, Warner Media, all of whom pulled employees and sponsorship from the mega conference.
No word yet on whether SXSW’s insurance will cover the losses or not, but there has likely been tense conversations in the background regarding who would shut the lights off – SXSW themselves or the City.
No matter what my personal speculations are, the event is off for March of 2020.
I’ve said repeatedly that it is an impossible situation, a gut-wrenching one for SX, and one that has surely kept many people up at night trying to figure out. Businesses in Austin are going to be hurt, and the startup ecosystem hit hard.
We too have had sleepless nights, and we have cancelled events, as the risk is simply too high, especially for the medically vulnerable, pregnant, older, or immunocompromised people in our lives.
Update: In SXSW’s response to Austin’s announcement, they note they are considering a virtual event or hosting at a later time, but there is no word yet on ticket refunds.
At this point, we typically stand up as a society and say “good job, Austin,” or “good job, SXSW,” but there is no praise to give here, as the decision was only made after massive pressure from all directions and all of the money pulling out making it clear that this year was going to be so sparsely attended, and the sponsorship dollars so dried up that the wrapup analysis would call it a failure and a risk that wasn’t worth taking in the first place.
No pats on the back were earned this day.