With all the coronavirus concerns, it was finally determined that this year’s SXSW, set to start on March 13, cannot go ahead. The last thing anyone wants is to have tens of thousands of people help create a new epicentre for the disease.
The cancelation, however, comes not from SXSW but from the City of Austin. And this isn’t a matter of government coming down hard on the music scene. This is an insurance play.
It works like this: If some level of government makes the call to cancel an event such as this, it’s apparently be easier for promoters to collect on their policies. (We can discuss later how the coronavirus is going to impact premiums for cancellation insurance going forward and how that will affect the price of concert tickets. And will artists start asking for communicable disease clauses in their insurance? There are already provisions for acts of terrorism in many policies.)
Here’s the full statement from the SXSW website:
“The City of Austin has cancelled the March dates for SXSW and SXSW EDU. SXSW will faithfully follow the City’s directions.
“SXSW will faithfully follow the City’s directions. We are devastated to share this news with you. ”The show must go on’ is in our DNA, and this is the first time in 34 years that the March event will not take place. We are now working through the ramifications of this unprecedented situation. We are exploring options to reschedule the event and are working to provide a virtual SXSW online experience as soon as possible for 2020 participants, starting with SXSW EDU. For our registrants, clients, and participants we will be in touch as soon as possible and will publish an FAQ.”
This is a huge blow to Austin. SXSW brings in almost US$350 million a year. Last year, 419,000 people attended the entire music-and-tech festival. The attendance for just the music portion was 159,000.
So SXSW is a no-go for 2020. But there’s another elephant in the room.
There is also a deafening silence surrounding AEG, the promoters of Coachella, which is scheduled to start its traditional two-weekend event April 10. What are their plans to deal with the coronavirus situation? You certainly can’t tell from the website, which doesn’t include a single mention of the issue.
Obviously, Coachella is taking a wait-and-see approach. Lots could still happen with the virus in the next month. Yes, it could get worse, but the problem could also soon start to abate. But they can’t wait too long because hundreds of thousands of people have made plans and are wondering what to do. I’d imagine, too, they’re wrestling with the issue of insurance coverage.
The Ultra festival in Miami didn’t want to wait. They’ve postponed things for this year, financial losses be damned.
Worst case scenario? Both events go ahead and they turn into epicenters for major outbreaks. Or we could all just be paranoid. The problem is that we just don’t know.
More at the NY Times.