SXSW Lays Off One-Third of Full-Time Staff Following Cancellation of 2020 Event

Spokesperson calls coronavirus-induced position “unimaginable” and the staff reduction “heartbreaking”


South by Southwest (SXSW) has laid off “approximately one-third” of its full-time staff, the organization announced Monday night. The layoffs follow last week’s cancellation of the 2020 festival due to fears over coronavirus.

In a statement, a SXSW spokesperson called the group’s position “unimaginable” and the layoffs a “heartbreaking step.”

“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,” the statement began. “Today we said goodbye to approximately one-third of our full-time staff.”

“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,” it continued. “We are planning for the future and this was a necessary, but heartbreaking step.”

The Wall Street Journal reported that one-third of SXSW’s full-time staff comes out to be roughly 58 people. Reps for SXSW did not immediately respond to TheWrap’s request for confirmation on that head count.

The 2020 SXSW festival was supposed to run from March 13 to March 20. It was scrapped on March 6 after multiple performers canceled their schedule appearances due to the coronavirus threat.

“The City of Austin has canceled the March dates for SXSW and SXSW EDU. SXSW will faithfully follow the City’s directions,” the cancellation statement read. “This is the first time in 34 years that the March event will not take place.”

On the SXSW website, an additional statement read: “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. We understand the gravity of the situation for all the creatives who utilize SXSW to accelerate their careers; for the global businesses; and for Austin and the hundreds of small businesses – venues, theatres, vendors, production companies, service industry staff, and other partners that rely so heavily on the increased business that SXSW attracts.”

Before SXSW officially canceled the event, several media outlets, studios and tech companies have announced they are pulling out or limiting their activity at the festival. Among them are Starz, Lionsgate, Netflix, Apple, Amazon Studios, Twitter, Facebook and CNN.