Tech and culture festival SXSW is laying off a third of its employees just days after the coronavirus outbreak forced it to cancel

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An event flag for SXSW blows in the wind after the music and tech festival was cancelled over growing concerns related to the coronavirus outbreak in Austin, Texas, U.S. March 6, 2020. An event flag for SXSW blows in the wind after the music and tech festival was cancelled over growing concerns related to the coronavirus outbreak in Austin, Texas, U.S. March 6, 2020. REUTERS/Sergio Flores

South By Southwest, known as SXSW, laid off roughly one-third of its full-time workforce Monday, as first reported by Wall Street Journal reporter Elizabeth Findell and confirmed by a spokesperson to Business Insider.

“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,” the spokesperson said.

While the spokesperson did not give a specific number, the Wall Street Journal previously reported that the company had 175 full-time employees who worked on SXSW year-round. That means that somewhere around 58 jobs were likely affected by this move.

The two-week long tech and culture festival held annually in Austin, Texas, was forced on Friday to cancel this year’s event for the first time in its 34-year history after city officials banned large events amid the outbreak of coronavirus.

SXSW CEO and co-founder Roland Swenson said the organisation’s insurance policy didn’t cover disease-related cancellations, according to the Wall Street Journal, putting the organisation in a financial bind and ultimately leading it to the layoffs announced Monday.

“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,” the SXSW spokesperson said.

Cancelling the festival will likely be a major blow to Austin’s local economy, as SXSW estimates it brings about $US350 million to the city each year. SXSW is far from the only major event that has been derailed due to the spread of COVID-19 disease, with companies pulling the plug on at least a dozen conferences, resulting in an estimated total economic hit of $US1 billion.