South By Southwest (typically stylized SXSW) sold a 50 percent stake in the festival to PMR-C, a joint venture operated by Penske Media Corp., which publishes magazines including Billboard, Rolling Stone and Variety. The Austin, Texas-based music, film and tech festival sold the shares due to the recent struggle they’ve been through following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
2020’s SXSW was canceled in early March, one week before the event was scheduled to take place. At that time, they revealed that cancellation due to a pandemic was not covered by their insurance. SXSW stuck with their “no refund” policy and gave ticket holders the option to differ their tickets for either the 2021, 2022 or 2023 festivals. Some people who had bought VIP badges sued them over this no refund policy, which does not appear to have been settled publicly.
The festival had to let go of a third of their year-round employees due to the costs of the cancellation and went quiet until they began announcing details for their 2021 festival, which ended up happening over livestream as a much smaller-scale showcase for several lesser-known artists between March 16-20. Some of the artists featured included JAMBINAI, TV Priest, Holy Fuck, Altin Gün, TENGGER, Yung Tate, The Reverend Peyton, Enola Gay, Great Peacock, Sinead O’Brien, Drug Store Romeos, No Joy, Babeheaven, ALMA, Squid, Blushin, Anna B. Savage, Otoboke Beaver, Iceage and Sir Woman, among others.
The festival was founded in 1987 by Roland Swenson, Louis Jay Meyers, Louis Black, Nick Barbaro, who have owned the event from its humble roots until now, after it has become one of the largest festivals in the United States. They will still remain in control of the management and operations of the festival even though they no longer own the largest stake. The financial figures behind the deal were not disclosed in the statement. However, the statement indicates that the transaction is more of a strategic investment than a takeover since the change of ownership isn’t affecting the management of the festival.
Co-founder and SXSW CEO Swenson stated, “It’s been an incredibly tough period for small businesses, SXSW included. When [Penske founder] Jay Penske came to us with interest in becoming a partner, it was a true lifeline for us. While SXSW’s core business will retain its focus on the March event in Austin, this strategic investment also brings the exploration of new capabilities in providing quality programming to our diverse community of highly engaged creative professionals.”
Penske added to the joint statement, “Today SXSW continues to be one of the most recognized brands for empowering creative talent and bringing together the brightest creators of our time. 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.”
Shortly after the 2021 events in March, SXSW announced that they intend to hold in-person festival dates from March 11-20 in 2022. Austin Public Health’s Interim Attorney Dr. Mark Escott stated that he’s “very confident that SXSW will look normal, or near-normal next year.”