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Penske Media Acquires 50% Stake in South by Southwest Festival

Deal comes as SXSW and other events have been put on hold due to the pandemic

P-MRC, the joint venture of publisher Penske Media and MRC, announced a significant investment in South by Southwest, the popular Austin, Texas festival, on Monday. The Wall Street Journal reported P-MRC will acquire 50% of SXSW in the deal, although financial terms were not disclosed.

The deal adds to P-MRC’s expanding list of holdings, which already includes a number of media outlets, including Variety, The Hollywood Reporter and Rolling Stone. It also comes after the festival and conference business has essentially vanished over the last year due to the coronavirus pandemic; SXSW — which typically has an eclectic mix of entertainment, music and tech-focused shows and conferences — was forced to have a condensed, online-only version of its festival this year.

“It’s been an incredibly tough period for small businesses, SXSW included,” said Roland Swenson, SXSW’s chief executive and co-founder, Roland Swenson. “When [Penske founder] Jay Penske came to us with interest in becoming a partner, it was a true lifeline for us.”

SXSW has been around since 1987 and expects to hold an in-person event next year, starting on March 11 in Austin. The festival will continue to be managed by its founders, the WSJ reported, despite Penske owning the largest stake.

“Today SXSW continues to be one of the most recognized brands for empowering creative talent and bringing together the brightest creators of our time,” said Penske Media chairman Jay Penske. “As part of this significant investment, we plan to build upon SXSW’s incredible foundation while extending the platform further digitally and assisting Roland and his incredible team to bring their vision to even greater heights.”

The festival pumps $355 million into the local economy, according to SXSW organizers, and the WSJ reported it has generated about $100 million in revenue on average each year.