South By Southwest 2020 may become the next high-profile casualty of the coronavirus pandemic on people's event calendars as more companies say they're backing out of the event which is supposed to kick off next week.
A petition went up on Sunday, now signed by over 35,000 people, calling for this year's SXSW to be canceled. "I'm concerned about the hundreds of thousands of people who will be traveling to [Austin] in march for the SXSW festival," writes petition writer Shayla Lee. "I believe that having an event like this is irresponsible amid an outbreak." And the Austin American-Statesman reports today on the growing list of companies that have officially backed out of the event, including Facebook, Intel, Mashable, and Vevo — and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has backed out of a speaking engagement at South By as part of the company's policy to cancel all "non-critical travel."
Event organizers say that SXSW is still on, and as of Monday they tell the Statesman that cancellations are on par or down compared to previous years. That could always change in the coming days, but for now they say in a statement, "SXSW is working closely on a daily basis with local, state, and federal agencies to plan for a safe event," and that is because "no health departments in the state have requested the cancellation of any gatherings as the current risk of person-to-person spread in their jurisdictions remains low."
There are also the issues of a) a horrible PR nightmare if multiple people become sick and symptomatic while attending the festival, officially brining the virus to Texas via Austin; and b) the potential legal exposure for organizers if such a thing were to occur. Says one attorney who represented a woman who was injured at the festival in 2015 and received a settlement, "I promise the organizers are thinking long and hard about their legal exposure if a #Coronavirus hits the festival hard."
SXSW is currently set to run from March 13 to March 22 — but who from the Bay Area is still planning to go? Apparently Hillary Clinton still is!
For what it's worth, the Twitter chatter is leaning toward this cancellation being imminent.
I'm gonna predict SXSW is called off by Monday https://t.co/lIeJWvOK7w— Casey Newton (@CaseyNewton) March 3, 2020
I represented a woman who was seriously injured in the #SXSW crash in 2015 and got the case settled.— Adam Loewy (@AdamLoewyATX) March 3, 2020
I promise the organizers are thinking long and hard about their legal exposure if a #Coronavirus hits the festival hard.