The fallout surrounding cancellation of the 2020 SXSW festival over fears of the spreading coronavirus continues, with SXSW LLC, the company behind the festival, laying off more than 50 employees, who represent a third of its staff.
Elizabeth Findell, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, tweeted on Monday: “After talking to @wsj yesterday about their precarious financial situation in light of the coronavirus cancellation, #SXSW confirms they today let 1/3 of their full-time employees go (approximately 58 people). Sad news for Austin’s prized festival.”
Previously, the festival had a total of 175 year-round employees on its staff, according to the Austin American-Statesman.
The Austin Chronicle quoted a “high-ranking official” as saying the draconian move was “the only way to stop the bleeding” after city officials announced last week that cancellation was the only option. On Monday, SXSW co-founder and chief executive Roland Swenson said that even next year’s event is now imperiled because of the 2020 cancellation.
Swenson hinted at layoffs in an earlier story reported in the Wall Street Journal on Sunday, saying, “I am most worried about my people and what this means for their future, and I don’t know what that is yet. We are planning to carry on and do another event in 2021, but how we’re going to do that I’m not entirely sure.”
The terminated employees spanned multiple departments, the Austin Chronicle reported, and included both veteran staffers and newer hires.
“Due to the City of Austin’s unprecedented and unexpected cancellation of SXSW 2020 events in March, SXSW has been rigorously reviewing our operations, and we are in the unimaginable position of reducing our workforce,” a spokesperson for SXSW said in a statement released to KUT-FM, Austin’s National Public Radio affiliate.
Last year alone, SXSW drew more than 400,000 visitors from around the world, which generated an estimated economic impact of $356 million, according to festival figures. Such a total rivals what host cities have come to expect in hosting the Super Bowl.
“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,” the unnamed spokesperson wrote in the statement released to KUT. “We are planning for the future, and this was a necessary, but heartbreaking step.”
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