SXSW Facing Class Action Lawsuit Over Ticket Refunds

South by Southwest is facing a class action suit on behalf of ticket buyers who were not offered ticket refunds after the Austin festival canceled its March event due to the spread of coronavirus, Billboard reports.

The suit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas Austin Division on April 24th by plaintiffs Maria Bromley and Pauta Kleber. In the suit, they claim breach of contract and unjust enrichment against the festival. The two plaintiffs claim they spent more than $1000 each to attend the event, which was scheduled for March 12th-20th. On March 6th, the city of Austin announced it was canceling the festival due to its ordinance prohibiting large gatherings over coronavirus concerns.

After the festival cancellation, SXSW announced in lieu of ticket refunds it would offer ticket and pass holders free registration for the 2021, 2022 or 2023 events and offered an additional 50 percent discount to attend another one of those three years.

According to the complaint, the plaintiffs were notified of the offer on March 12th, which noted that it “cannot be certain that future festivals will occur.” The plaintiffs were also informed that the offer would expire on April 30th.

“SXSW has, in effect, shifted the burden of the COVID-19 pandemic onto festivalgoers … individuals who in these desperate times may sorely need the money they paid to SXSW for a festival that never occurred,” the complaint reads per Billboard.

“When Mayor Steve Adler issued an order on March 6, 2020, prohibiting SXSW from holding the 2020 event due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we understood and agreed with his tough call. The pandemic and the cancellation have caused a tremendous loss to our business, our staff, the City, and its citizens,” a SXSW spokesperson said in a statement to Rolling Stone. “We are still picking up the pieces after spending a year to program what would have been a remarkable event that required significant time, energy, and resources to produce.

“Due to the unique nature of SXSW’s business, where we are reliant on one annual event, we incurred extensive amounts of non-recoupable costs well in advance of March. These expenditures, and the loss of expected revenue, have resulted in a situation where we do not have the money to issue refunds,” the statement continues. “SXSW, like many small businesses across the country, is in a dire financial situation requiring that we rely on our contracts, which have a clearly stated no refunds policy. Though we wish we were able to do more, we are doing our best to reconcile the situation and offered a deferral package option to purchasers of 2020 registrations.”

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