SXSW Considering Turning Austin Into The Olympic Village, Complete With 'Brand Equity'-Protecting 'Clean Zones'

from the the-worst-people-to-ask,-and-the-worst-answers-to-get dept

Whether you believe Austin’s SXSW to be a venerated institution or believe it’s outlived its usefulness, you probably believe the last thing it should do is morph into a many-tentacled IP monster a la the Olympics or the Super Bowl. And yet, that appears to be something those behind SXSW seem to be considering.

SXSW consulted with Populous, the design and planning committee that has worked with organizers for the Olympics, the World Cup and the Super Bowl in the past. Dan Solomon of Texas Monthly notes that most of the outrage aimed at this partnership has very little to do with impending IP ridiculousness and thuggery, but rather at the possibility that SXSW might have to relocate at some point in the future.

Immediately, local media seized on the idea that SXSW is implicitly threatening to move out of Austin if the massive changes suggested in the report regarding the way the city and the festival interact aren’t made. The Austin Business Journal ran with the headline “Festival overload could force SXSW to move away from Austin, report says,” while Culturemap Austin asked, “Bullying tactics or lack of options? SXSW says without changes it may leave Austin.”

But that’s not the biggest story here, says Solomon. He quotes SXSW co-founder Roland Swenson as saying its basically “unimaginable” that the conference would be held anywhere but Austin. It’s not the nearly-nonexistent threat of relocation. It’s the potential re-imagining of SXSW as a something more notable for its IP enforcement than for its many concerts and events.

The more disturbing recommendations are laid out in terms that wouldn’t look out of place in Philip K. Dick’s dystopias. Or Anthony Burgess’s, for that matter.

It recommends the creation of a “Legal Injunctive Zone,” or a “Clean Zone.” According to the report, the “Clean Zone” would be a perimeter around some part of the city that:

“protects the brand equity of SXSW and its sponsors but would be made to work with existing businesses and their interests so as to uphold sponsor values and private property rights—in return this may involve a financial exchange linked to the permit process that provides the City with additional funding for security and safety personnel.”

The report also recommends “soft searching” attendees for “forbidden items” — presumably anything not bearing a major sponsor’s logo — as well as busting up nearby events not officially sanctioned by the SXSW committee.

In order to ensure the profitability of SXSW, the city will have to abandon its equitable treatment of vendors and event organizers.

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.

Note that the report conflates profitability and protection of sponsors’ interests with “safety.” It speaks highly of “brand equity” and uses these buzzwords to justify the deployment of tactics sure to land SXSW on the receiving end of First Amendment lawsuits.

“Clean Zone” ordinances tend to pop up in cities with one-time events like the Super Bowl or the All-Star Game, and their constitutionality is usually challenged quickly: The ACLU sued the city of New Orleans over theirs before the Super Bowl in 2013, resulting in a settlement that restored most of the rights that were restricted before the event. A federal lawsuit filed in Dallas was settled in 2012 after a man was cited by police for having a van with Best Buy logos on it within the Super Bowl clean zone.

The organizers may feel the current business model — one that allows non-SXSW entities to benefit from the influx of attendees without kicking back a portion of the revenue — is unsustainable in the long term. It may be, but the workarounds suggested here are much worse, especially in the long term.

“Clean zones” tend to end up in lawsuit settlements that are either late-breaking compromises, or months (or years) later cash payouts, as in Dallas. But the questions surrounding a SXSW clean zone would be harder to kick down the road, given that the event happens every year.

SXSW may be making more of an effort to protect its image and secure its legacy, but following these suggestions will only make the event more famous for the antics of its IP enforcers than for the concerts and conferences held under its name. It’s one thing when a once-in-a-decade or once-in-lifetime event puts a city under the control of “brand equity” martial law. It’s something else entirely when it’s year after year.

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Companies: populous, sxsw

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Comments on “SXSW Considering Turning Austin Into The Olympic Village, Complete With 'Brand Equity'-Protecting 'Clean Zones'”

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Ehud Gavron (profile) says:

Inclines that are not rough at all

” It’s one thing when a once-in-a-decade or once-in-lifetime event puts a city under the control of “brand equity” martial law. It’s something else entirely when it’s year after year. “

When we accept a heinous thing because “Well it’s only this one time” we not only open the door for other equally heinous things, but for something that may be more than this one time.

There should be no US Constitution-free zones in the United States. (Other than, of course, the back of a police car or where a DHS employee is standing.)


ryuugami says:

Re: Inclines that are not rough at all

There should be no US Constitution-free zones in the United States.

What? No free zones? Tell me, why do you hate FREEDOM?

Wait. Constitution-free? As in, constitution-does-not-apply? Uh, yeah, those would be bad.

My point being, stuff like “constitution-free” or “clean zone” sounds nice until you take 2 and a half seconds to think about it. “Clean zone? Hell yeah I want the city to be clean!”

Fuck newspeak. Let me leave you with this fine anecdote:

During a meeting of commanders in General Eisenhower’s headquarters in London, an American colonel said: “How many ICPs have been counted?”
“What,” asked Winston Churchill, “are ICPs?”
“Impaired combatant personnel, sir.”
“Never let me hear that detestable phrase again. If you’re talking about British troops, you will refer to them as wounded soldiers.”

Annon says:


Considering I had to look u SXSW to find out what the hell it was… I can’t see that it’s as important as an Olympics. I’ve heard of the Toronto Film Festival or the Venice one, or Cannes, or Sundance. If you’re not that important, who cares about a Best Buy van parked outside?

But the article has a good point – what good is any restriction that likely would not survive a court challenge, for an event that happens every year?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: SXSW - Fuck off and die you slimy bastards

Be aware that SXSW has made it clear that they are not completely on board with the extremists at Populous and that they are not considering moving.

On the other hand, the defence of “better distinction of official and non-official events” and “a comprehensive safety plan in the zone around the festival” – which is likely a reference to the “Stop and Frisk”-type police activity and enforcement of restricting non-licensed events in public areas in the proximity Populous is proposing. That is very worrying.

scotts13 (profile) says:

Never heard of them

Never heard of SXSW until today, and already they have a bad reputation with me. They’re an entertainment venue, right? Aren’t they supposed to be fun, and not just a chute that separates you from your money?

I’m reminded of the process by which the New Jersey State Aquarium became the private Adventure Aquarium. The place got better exhibits, better maintenance, more staff – and became no fun at all. You get the impression a cashier will leap out from behind a display if you smile without paying an extra charge. I never go there anymore.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Never heard of them

The 60% (and growing rapidly) portion of Austin’s population who are Mexican colonists, their clothes still wet from the swim across the Rio Grande, couldn’t give less of a damn about SXSW or any of this gringo hipster hippie bullshit.

Presumably SXSW’s whiter-than-Wonder Bread organizers have noticed the sombrero in the living room and are trying to cash in on the “brand” and on Austin in what little time remains before the invaders finish La Reconquista, turning Austin into the Third World, as everything between Los Angeles and Houston already has.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Profits

Selling the idea of more restrictions to the public is downright impossible with the Populous reasoning as the underlying premise. It will work somewhat if it is only sales material send out to cooperating companies and maybe even the most pro-business politicians, but Populous seems severely reality challenged, when it comes to communicationg with a broader audience. SXSW has tried to straighten the PR-disaster caused by their partner, but it isn’t even close to convincing. As soon as protection of brand equity for a private event is unmistakenly sold as a public responsibility, the fight is lost.

cmay says:

Nothing New

I’ve lived in Austin for 10 years now, and SXSW (South By South West) has been trying to leverage law enforcement to reduce the number of non-SXSW shows for at least that long.

SXSW music, the vast majority of what is being discussed here, spreads out all over the city in an official capacity. MOST of downtown is occupied by official south by events, requiring at least a wristband that for a *chance* to get into the show. Non-SXSW events also occupy literally almost any possible venue that can host musicians. Coffee shops, book stores, vintage clothing stores, restaurants all have shows. It’s these ‘ancillary’ shows that SXSW is taking aim at with this Clean Zone or whatever proposal, and it’s just the latest attack on these free events. Just now they have some big dollar consultants backing their claims.

Personally, I’m ready to see south by take a hike. The vast majority of the artists aren’t paid, their workers are almost ALL volunteers (who get wristbands to attend), and it’s all industry coming in and junking up the city. The ONLY good thing about it for residents is the free shows that pop up around the official fest.

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