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Sundance Film Festival's impact on Utah economy grows

Published May 16, 2014 10:16 am

Eleven-day 2014 event brought $86.4M into the state economy.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Of all the multimillion-dollar deals that were made at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, the biggest might be the one between festivalgoers and the Utah economy.

The 11 days of the festival produced an economic impact of $86.4 million, according to a study, released Thursday, by the Bureau of Economic and Business Research at the University of Utah's David Eccles School of Business.

That's well above the $69.5 million impact of the 2013 festival and above the $73.98 million average impact over the past five years.

"The economic impact is significant and real," Gov. Gary Herbert said in a phone interview.

The study also found the 2014 festival supported 1,434 jobs, generated $6.96 million in state and local taxes, and generated publicity equal to an estimated $65.1 million in advertising.

Of the $86.4 million in total economic impact, $63.9 million came from what attendees spent during the festival. The rest is what the Sundance Institute spent to produce the event.

Three main factors accounted for the increase, according to the study:

• More money spent locally by the Sundance Institute to produce the festival, up to $10.2 million this year compared with $5.8 million in 2013 (though that's in part due to the fact that Sundance began using a longer reporting period with this year's study).

• More money spent, on average, by nonresidents for lodging — $1,049.45, compared with $796.62 the year before.

• Longer stays, on average, by nonresidents, from 6.6 nights in 2013 to 7.2 nights in 2014.

"It looks like the folks who came in from out of town stayed longer," said Laurie Hopkins, co-managing director of the Sundance Institute.

Sarah Pearce, Sundance's other co-managing director, said the increased numbers indicate an improving economy.

Pearce also cited more random factors, like the fact that it didn't snow during the festival this year and that the festival overlapped the Martin Luther King holiday weekend. (Sundance and Park City last year reached a deal so the festival and three-day weekend would not coincide; the 2015 festival will be pushed back a week and will run Jan. 22-Feb. 1.)

Attendance for the 2014 festival, the study reported, was 45,352. That's down 595 from 2013, but still within the general capacity — between 45,000 and 46,000 — the festival can handle each year, Pearce said.

About 69 percent of those attending are from outside Utah, a level that has stayed stable for five years.

"They go home and say, 'Man, we had a great time in Utah,' " Herbert said. "We end up having people becoming ambassadors, as it were, for Utah. And it ripples through the marketplace."

Herbert said the state has capitalized on Sundance's popularity, working with Utah businesses such as Zions Bank to set up meetings for out-of-state business leaders during the festival.

"It's an excuse to come to Utah, though you don't need much of an excuse," Herbert said, adding that if business leaders can take in a screening in Park City, "and do some business while they're here, so much the better."

Beyond the economic impact and the added tax revenue, Herbert said he sees a benefit in "the ambience that's created by Sundance" — particularly in TV, print and online stories about the festival.

"They always say, 'Here we are, live in Park City, Utah,' " Herbert said. "That kind of publicity you just couldn't afford to buy."

Herbert gives much of the credit to the Sundance Institute's founder. "We owe a great deal of gratitude to Robert Redford, for helping put Utah on the map," he said.