More SXSW damage from Coronavirus pandemic: No refunds for ticket-holders, as event lays off a third of staff

Earlier today (March 11), the World Heath Organization (WHO) declared the spread of COVID-19 a “pandemic”.

The organisers of South By Southwest (SXSW), however, didn’t need a global health body to teach them how damaging  the so-called Coronavirus – and consumer fears surrounding its spread – might now prove for long-standing institutions.

At the end of last week, Austin, Texas-based SXSW confirmed not only that its event for 2020 was being cancelled, but that it had no insurance policy to cover the fallout.

The event’s non-insured status was not affected by the fact that its closure was triggered by by Austin city representatives declaring a “local state of disaster.”

This week, things have gone from bad to worse for SXSW’s co-founders, Nick Barbaro and Roland Swenson.


First came the news, via an official statement on Monday (March 9), that the SXSW workforce – believed to number around 175 employees – was being cut by a third.

The statement read: “Due to the City of Austin’s unprecedented and unexpected cancellation of the SXSW 2020 events in March, SXSW has been rigorously reviewing our operations, and we are in the unimaginable position of reducing our workforce.

“Today we said goodbye to approximately one-third of our full-time staff.”

“Today we said goodbye to approximately one-third of our full-time staff. Those of us in the business of live events know the level of trust required to execute an event of SXSW’s scale, and we are deeply sad to let people go this soon.

“We are planning for the future and this was a necessary, but heartbreaking, step.”


There hasn’t been any cheerier news for SXSW ticket-holders.

Over 160,000 attendees were expected for this year’s event – but it has now emerged that none of them will be able to claim a refund for SXSW 2020, which was due to kick off this Friday (March 13).

In a note responding to inquired about refunds in the past few days, SXSW has told would be attendees: “We wish that the SXSW and SXSW… no refund policy (see Terms & Conditions) was just there as a safeguard and never imagined we would ever be in a situation where we would have to enforce it in this manner.”

It adds: “SXSW has to rely on the registration terms you agreed to when you purchased your credential, which acknowledge that SXSW will not issue refunds.”

“SXSW does not issue refunds under any circumstances. Any and all payments made to SXSW are not refundable for any reason, including, without limitation, failure to use Credentials due to illness, acts of God, travel-related problems, acts of terrorism, loss of employment and/or duplicate purchases.”

Those Terms & Conditions, as spelled out on the SXSW website, read: “SXSW does not issue refunds under any circumstances. Any and all payments made to SXSW are not refundable for any reason, including, without limitation, failure to use Credentials due to illness, acts of God, travel-related problems, acts of terrorism, loss of employment and/or duplicate purchases. SXSW will not issue refunds for Credentials that have been revoked.”

There is one note of hope for 2020 ticket-holders, however.

In its standard response to those seeking refunds in the past few days, SXSW adds: “To provide value to customers who purchased badges we’re exploring options to reschedule the events in 2020 along with some online conference experiences and networking opportunities.”

Importantly, SXSW confirms that “2020 badge purchasers can opt to defer their registration to 2021”.

Other major events to cancel or postpone this week due to Coronavirus-related concerns include Winter Music Conference, Ultra Music Festival and Coachella, which has this week announced that it’s moving its dates from April to October.


[Pictured: Lizzo performs at SXSW 2019. Credit: Stephen Olker]Music Business Worldwide

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