SXSW sued over no refund policy after cancelling 2020 festival
SXSW was one of the first major North American festivals to cancel its 2020 edition due to the coronavirus pandemic, and they've maintained a strict no refund policy, offering badgeholders the option to defer their registration to 2021, 2022, or 2023, and writing, "We wish that the SXSW and SXSW EDU no refund policy (see Terms & Conditions) was just there as a safeguard and never imagined we would ever be in a situation where we would have to enforce it in this manner." Now the Austin Statesman reports that SXSW is being sued over not providing refunds. A suit was filed on Friday (4/24) by Maria Bromley of Massachusetts and Kleber Pauta of Colorado, who each spent over $1000 on badges and other expenses, according to the filing, and it "seeks class-action status on behalf of potentially 'hundreds of thousands' of others similarly rebuffed," according to the Statesman.
The plaintiffs, "on behalf of themselves and all other persons who purchased wristbands, tickets, passes, and badges to the 2020 South by Southwest festival, bring this action for breach of contract and unjust enrichment in order to recover (money) paid for a festival that never occurred," the filing reads. It goes on to call the festival's no refund policy "an unenforceable, illusory, unilateral option contract that allows SXSW to sell credentials, cancel the festival for any or no reason whatsoever, and retain all customer payments while leaving (would-be attendees) without a remedy."
Furthermore, Bromley and Pauta say they "do not necessarily plan to attend future festivals." They are seeking refunds and "equitable monetary relief," the Statesman reports.
In a statement made on Saturday (4/25), SXSW say that they are not in a financial position to issue refunds to all badgeholders. "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," they write. "SXSW, like many small businesses across the country, is in a dire financial situation requiring that we rely on our contracts (agreed to by would-be attendees at the time of purchase), 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."
"The pandemic and the cancellation have caused a tremendous loss to our business, our staff, the city, and its citizens," SXSW's statement continues. "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."