If you’ve ever been to SXSW, you probably know that the unofficial shows that surround the festival — the free daytime marathons, the corporate-sponsored superstar surprise shows, the late-night bridge shows — are as important as the official events that you need a badge or wristband to get into. They might be more important. But SXSW makes much of its money from corporate sponsors, and these sponsors are not shelling out all this money so that people can go to shows where their logo isn’t plastered up everywhere. And now, according to a new report that SXSW sponsored, the festival might want to implement measures to make the whole thing even more corporate-friendly. And they could end up trying to ban the unofficial shows that add so much energy to the whole Austin experience.
As Texas Monthly reports, the festival sponsored a report from Populous, an international design and planning firm that also works with the Super Bowl and the World Cup, on how to grow the festival. The firm has suggested a few changes that could substantially alter the whole festival. It discusses the idea of banning buskers from playing outside, for instance, and of frisking people coming into the cordoned-off 6th Street area.
But according to the report, one of the festival’s biggest issues is the city of Austin’s policy to award permits to just about everyone who applies for them:
The current policy of the City with respect to the permitting process as “first come, first served” and/or “must treat everyone equally” appears to have become detrimental to event planning process and management of the key stakeholder interests. The SXSW event is one of the largest events in the world, and bespoke treatment is needed to facilitate a continuing safe event in Austin.
The reports suggests that those “stakeholder interests” could be better served if the city and the festival team up to create a “Clean Zone” or a “Legal Injunctive Zone.” The idea, then, is that events that don’t officially fall under the SXSW umbrella would not be able to get those permits. The report is vague on what, exactly, a “Clean Zone” would be, but it seems fairly obvious that Populous wants SXSW to try to legally squash all its competition in Austin that week.
And if Austin isn’t down with that plan, the report suggests an even more radical change. It says that maybe SXSW should consider moving to another city:
If SXSW cannot sustain success and growth in the future, like any business they will eventually need to make decisions about whether or not they can continue to exist in their current format and location. It is very possible that SXSW will have no choice but to entertain notions of bidding their event to other cities to sustain their business model. This would be a serious matter for all parties considering the significant financial impact and returns SXSW provides to the community as well as the contribution to the brand and PR value of the City.
These are all just suggestions, of course, and it’s not clear that SXSW is actually going to put any of them into action. But if SXSW does manage to ban all these unofficial things and make the whole thing even more of a corporate clusterfuck, I can’t imagine SXSW will be a whole lot of fun. The whole Texas Monthly article is worth reading; check it out here.