SXSW injects $99 million into Austin economy

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by CLARA TUMA / KVUE News

kvue.com

Posted on January 11, 2010 at 6:48 PM

Updated Monday, Feb 15 at 11:25 AM

Despite a world-wide economic downtown, a new analysis says the 2009 South by Southwest music festival still brought about $99 million to the Austin economy.

That number is down from the $103 million brought in in 2008, but up from the $95 million from 2007.

"It's really nice to know we've shown a little bit of resilience and our numbers have held up, so even though it's down a little bit from last year, I'm pretty happy," said Mike Shea, SXSW executive planner

Shea says the study by Greyhill Advisors helps SXSW know more about how well it's doing.

"Just like you have have a speedometer on a car to tell you how fast you're going, we can use this as a yardstick from year to year to tell us where we are and what people are doing when they come to South by Southwest," Shea said. "We have a pretty good idea of how many people come, but this gives us an idea of what they do when they get here."

The study estimated that in addition to the $99 million left in the Austin economy, the city received an additional $21.4 million in free publicity from more than 200 million broadcast, print and online mentions.

"If you wanted to get 200 million impressions in the media, that's what it would basically cost you to generate that kind of coverage," said Ben Loftsgaarden of Greyhill Advisors.

The study says most people attending the festival from out of town spent about $300 a day during the festival. Loftsgaarden says Austinites spent about $20 to $30 a day.

He says the overall numbers are impressive even though they went down from 2008 to 2009.

"South by Southwest is growing," Loftsgaarden said. "2009 saw the highest attendance in its history in Austin. That's remarkable due to the fact that there's still an economic downturn we're struggling with in 2009, yet South by Southwest was still able to shine."

Mayor Lee Leffingwell says every dollar spent by SXSW attendees translates into sales tax money that helps Austin taxpayers.

Mayor Pro Tem Mike Martinez says he welcomes SXSW even though there are yearly concerns about traffic and noise.

"One week out of the year we're on the world stage," he said.

Martinez likens Austin's exposure during SXSW to the attention Pasadena, California, receives once a year during the Rose Bowl.

"Once a year Pasadena puts on a show for the rest of the world to see," Martinez said. "That's the opportunity we have here in Austin, and that's the opportunity we look forward to every year. Yes, it does create a little bit of hardship for some of our folks in Austin. But we deal with that and we move beyond the complaints, and we host an event that I think is second to none in terms of music, film and interactive media."

Thom Segesta, the general manager of the Four Seasons Hotel in downtown Austin, says the hotel is already sold out for some days of the festival coming up in March.

"People start talking about one year as soon as one year is over," said Segesta, past president of the Austin Hotel and Lodging Association. "It's something we prepare all year for. The hotel industry gets very excited for South by Southwest."

This year's festival is March 12-21.

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