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SXSW reports $315M economic impact on Austin

Friday, September 12, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

It probably comes as no surprise to anyone who has lived in Austin for any length of time, but the South by Southwest Music, Film and Interactive Festival is bigger than ever.

That goes for the festival’s economic impact as well, which was $315 million last year, according to an economic benefit study released by Greyhill Advisors on Thursday. That’s a $97 million increase over 2013.

According to Greyhill’s Ben Loftsgaarden, the figure is conservative. He attributed the increase to festival organizers, increased prices in Austin and the inclusion of a new “guestpass” credential, which increased the data set by 150,000 people. The group estimated total attendance to be 376,000 in 2014.

Of that total, $136.5 million came from registered attendants of the festival, and about $56.9 million came from festival participants. The study also calculated the number of “broadcast, print and online impressions” at 86.7 million. Greyhill determined the value of that media exposure to be $78.7 million.

The announcement comes less than a week after a report issued by the city recommended big changes for the festival.

If implemented, those changes could limit temporary outdoor music event hours, require existing brick-and-mortar venues to obtain special Entertainment Permits during the festival and increase the budget for city enforcement during the festival. (See Austin Monitor, Sept. 5)

Austin Chamber of Commerce President Michael Rollins spoke to the Monitor about the city’s report. He said that, in his opinion, there was a lot of work that needed to be done before the city adopted its suggestions.

“Part of the challenge is that the city is behind on its process on this. It didn’t reach out into many in the community that would have significant information and guidance to provide. It seems they were very insular in coming up with some of these ideas and suggestions,” said Rollins. “It’s not been an open process as far as the community is concerned.”

“I think in Austin, we are fortunate to have what I would call some very top-tier level events and festivals,” Rollins continued. “Of course, as a community we have many, many events. However, there is a big differentiation between South By Southwest, which has a $350 million impact, and something that has a slight, million-dollar impact. I don’t think that we should, as a community, be approaching this as a one-size-fits-all. My concern is that’s the approach we’ve been taking … whether it’s a 100-person event or a 300,000-person event.”

SXSW Executive Director Mike Shea said he understood there were new strategies that should be pursued in order to maintain quality despite festival growth.

Shea believed that having a little more control over the unofficial events that have sprung up around the festival would be better for attendees, saying, “I think we all want to try to control a little more of some of the events that happen outside of South by Southwest. Those are the events that typically don’t have the same kind of safety controls that we do, and that’s the scary stuff.”

“I think if we can control some of the growth, or better control some of the growth, that has happened in March, we can make for a better user experience. And we would be fine with that,” Shea continued.

Shea said they had a lot of ideas to make the experience for attendees the best that it could be, and stressed that it was an ongoing process.

“When people come to SXSW and they fall in love with Austin, they come back here again, they relocate their business here, they tell their friends to come here,” said Shea. “And that’s good for all of us, right?”


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