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SXSW's fiscal influence: At least $99M

Festivals' impact on city calculated by outside firm.

Patrick Caldwell

Just shy of $100 million.

That's the comprehensive economic impact of the 2009 South by Southwest Music, Film and Interactive Conferences and Festivals on the City of Austin, according to an analysis sponsored by the festival and released by consulting firm Greyhill Advisors.

The report was presented at a news conference Monday by Greyhill's Ben Loftsgaarden, Mayor Lee Leffingwell, SXSW's Mike Shea and City Council Member Mike Martinez.

In 2009, according to the report, SXSW was directly and indirectly responsible for injecting about $99 million into the Austin economy — with $20 million a result of year-round expenditures by SXSW and its sponsors and $78.8 million in expenditures by the festival's roughly 210,000 attendees. That number applies only to the economic impact of officially sanctioned events — meaning it doesn't factor in the considerable number of day parties and other unofficial events that take place throughout the festival that have become, for many, the primary attraction.

The figure is down from 2008 — when the festival brought $103 million to the Austin economy — indicating that, despite a 30 percent jump in attendance for 2009, most spent less during last year's economic doldrums. Greyhill estimated that 90 percent of that $78.8 million in attendance expenditures were dollars from outside Austin.

"Last year alone, South by Southwest directly or indirectly contributed almost $100 million to Austin's economy. That's a lot of barbecue," Leffingwell said. "It's also a lot of hotel rooms, a lot of rental cars, a lot of T-shirts and a lot of snow globes. All of those expenditures translate into sales tax dollars that help Austin taxpayers."

Leffingwell also emphasized the festival's effect in terms of its value in establishing Austin as "a global creative action center," a point also stressed by Martinez.

"We won't go without hiccups," said Martinez, referring to the traffic and sound concerns generated by the festival. "But one week out of the year, we are on the world stage."

In an attempt to put a price tag on the buzz generated for the city by the event, Greyhill worked with the festival to track broadcast, print and online coverage of SXSW. They eventually estimated the financial impact of the media coverage at $21.4 million.

"I don't want to say calculating that is arbitrary, but there is some art to it," Loftsgaarden said. "It's not just complete science. But it does try to capture the fact that this conference is being mentioned nationally and internationally, and with it, Austin is able to kind of ride the coat strings of South by Southwest and get favorable mentions in media. A lot of other regions pay big bucks to try to get that sort of coverage."

This year's SXSW festivals run March 12 through 21.; 912-2559