Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

A festival worth $317 million

The multi-million value of SXSW to Austin, Texas

Some of those $317 million getting spent on 6th Street. Photo: David Schumaker https://www.flickr.com/photos/rockbandit/

Wed, Sep 16, 2015, 10:01


Economic impact reports are all the rage in the festival sector as event producers and promoters go all out to show just how much cash they generate for the local city or region. There are times when it seems as if this excercise in financial self-justification are back-of-the-envelope calculations, but that’s not the case with SXSW. Over the last few years, they’ve compiled detailed and structured reports about just how many SXSW dollars are generated for Austin, Texas and the latest report indicates that the company’s 2015 activities brought in over $317 million for the city.

When you look at the various inputs and outputs, it’s clear that SXSW is a pretty good deal for the Texas city. Yes, there’s a lot of disruption, traffic chaos and random Irish eejits on bicycles to deal with when the event is in full swing, but the upside is considerable. Of course, SXSW is not the only big-box event in town – it doesn’t even have March to itself as Rodeo Austin runs at roughly the same time and pulls in 300,000 people – and there has to be a lot of other events going on to justify all those new hotels which keep popping up all over downtown. For all that, you can understand the monetary reasons why the city’s powers-that-be are keen to keep SXSW sweet as it probably attracts other events and interest.

For those of us who go to Austin, though, there are other reasons for engagement. Next year will be SXSW’s 30th outing and, as has probably been the case since 1987, people will grouse that ‘SXSW is so over’ or ‘SXSW has sold out’ or ‘SXSW is too big’. My addition to that list would be the corporate over-branding which now seems par for the course (if you thought the branding was bad at Electric Picnic this year, you should see some of the crud that has passed for brand awareness and activation in Austin in the last few years). However, all those complaints aside, SXSW remains one of those rare events which attracts a lot of really interesting folks from so many different sectors. Music, film and technology may be the defining silos but that’s just the start of things. When it comes to ideas and connections, that $317 million is just the tip of iceberg.