Report: Sundance Film Festival brings in more than $150 million to state GDP
Attendance at world-renowned festival grows to 71,600
The 2017 Sundance Film Festival set records for its economic footprint and attendance, dwarfing totals from previous years’ events, according to a study released Wednesday by the Sundance Institute.
Notably, the report states that the festival — one of the most prominent events of its kind in the world — generated $151.5 million in state gross domestic product. That’s an almost $80 million increase over the GDP a similar study attributed to last year’s festival. And this year’s attendance of 71,600 — 37,200 of whom were from out of state — is significantly larger than the 46,000 who were said to attend in 2016.
But the gains may not be quite what they seem, however. The Sundance Institute, which puts on the annual event, commissioned a new firm, Y2 Analytics, to compile the study for this year’s festival. Betsy Wallace, managing director and chief financial officer of the Park City nonprofit, said the disparities can be largely attributed to Y2 Analytics’ methodology.
The firm used a more holistic process to generate data that paints a fuller picture of the festival’s attendance and economic impact than previous studies, Wallace said. For instance, Y2 Analytics combined in-person surveys of attendees with online assessments to gather economic information from a broader cross section of festival-goers and sponsors. It also used new technology to get a more accurate headcount of people attending events like film screenings and panel discussions.
The spikes in GDP and attendance were so large that Y2 Analytics spent about 45 days double checking its work but ultimately came up with the same figures, Wallace said. And despite the increases, the data lined up with the anecdotal observations of people involved in the festival.
“I actually feel that the $150 million-plus GDP and the 71,000 attendees is more in line to what we believe that the festival has been generating and what everybody has been experiencing both (in Park City) and Salt Lake as to the breadth of the festival,” she said, adding that it’s particularly critical for organizers to have an accurate tally of attendees for planning purposes.
The festival also saw a bump in another important figure: state and local sales tax. According to the study, Sundance brought in a record $14 million in tax revenue, up from $7.9 million in 2016. Some Parkites in recent years have expressed frustration at the disruption and traffic woes the festival causes each January — exacerbated this year by heavy snowfall and the Park City Women’s March on Main — and Wallace said she understands the difficulties residents face each time Sundance rolls out its red carpet.
But the amount of tax revenue the festival generates — which state and local governments use for things such as road improvements and other programs that benefit the public — ensures Parkites reap the rewards of hosting an event that draws thousands of people to town.
“I do believe that the give-back that the Sundance Film Festival provides to Park City is phenomenal,” she said. “I believe it gives financial gains back to the city that can be used year-round. And I think we all benefit from those numbers.”
Overall, Wallace said, the results of the study solidify Sundance’s status as a world-class film festival capable of capturing the attention of the world every January.
“The numbers support that concept that we provide a wonderful vehicle — and Park City, Salt Lake and the state of Utah support us — where independent film can be appreciated by our audiences,” she said.
Gov. Gary Herbert added in a press release that the festival remains one of Utah’s most treasured annual events.
“It is apparent that the Sundance Film Festival continues to have an expanding impact on Utah’s vibrant and diverse economy,” he said. “In addition to the obvious economic benefits, our ongoing collaboration with Sundance Institute highlights the exceptional cultural, recreational, tourism and business opportunities available here in Utah.”
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A study pegged the number of Sundance Film Festival attendees at 122,313, with the event generating an economic impact of $182.5 million. Both numbers represent a slight decrease from the 2018 festival.