With nearly 125,000 attending in 2018, Sundance Film Festival is a major economic draw, study says

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Crowds gather outside the Egyptian Theater along Main Street as the 2018 Sundance Film Festival kicks off in Park City on Friday, Jan. 19, 2018.

The Sundance Film Festival is reclaiming its title as Utah’s most popular arts happening, with a new economic study that estimates nearly 125,000 people attended this January’s event.

The number of attendees — 124,985 — is more than the estimated 100,000 who attend the FanX Salt Lake Comic Convention every year. FanX, formerly called Salt Lake Comic-Con, had surpassed Sundance as the state’s most-attended cultural event when the convention debuted in 2013.

Only the Days of ’47 Parade, which brings around 250,000 to line the Salt Lake City parade route every July 24, draws a bigger crowd in Utah.

The 2018 film festival generated a total economic impact of $191.6 million, according to the study released Tuesday by Sundance Institute and written by the Salt Lake City research firm Y2 Analytics. That’s well above the $151.5 million generated in 2017.

Sundance’s attendance figure is a significant jump from the 71,000 that Y2 estimated attended the festival in 2017. The leap, the report says, “is mostly a factor of undercounting short-term attendees in prior festivals.”

Robert Redford’s Sundance Institute hired Y2 to measure the festival’s economic impact last year, after years of studies by University of Utah business-school economists. While the old studies relied on students surveying festivalgoers in ticket lines, Y2 uses online surveys as well as data from Blyncsy, a Utah firm that can anonymously track individuals in a particular location through their cellphones.

Most of the higher count, the study said, consisted of festival attendees from Utah, who were chronically undercounted, a Sundance Institute spokesperson said. While last year’s study showed an almost even split between Utahns and out-of-staters, the 2018 figures showed 64 percent of Sundance attendees were from Utah and 36 percent were from elsewhere.

Utahns are divided evenly between Park City venues and Salt Lake City venues, with each city getting 45.6 percent of in-state attendees. The Sundance resort, in Provo Canyon, is visited by 8.8 percent of Utah festivalgoers. Out-of-staters overwhelmingly stay in Park City, with 80 percent going to venues in the mountain town.

The average Utah festival attendee spent $334 while going to the festival, compared to $3,518 spent by the average non-Utah festivalgoer — mostly because out-of-staters spent far more on lodging and transportation.

“Each year the full extent of the economic benefits of the arts has become more apparent, and we’re very proud of the role Sundance Institute and our Festival have played in demonstrating these benefits and bringing them to Utah,” Betsy Wallace, Sundance Institute’s CFO and managing director, said in a statement.

Other interesting facts drawn from the study:

• Women make up 66.9 percent of the attendees, with men representing 31.7 percent, and 1.4 percent identifying as “other.”

• Only 11.8 percent of attendees work in the entertainment industry. Students made up 10.6 percent of the audiences.

• About a quarter — 24.7 percent — of festivalgoers said they intended to ski or snowboard during the festival.

• Of the out-of-state attendees who live in the United States, 36.8 percent come from California. New York, Texas, Florida, Illinois, Colorado and Massachusetts also sent significant numbers of visitors to Utah.

• The average festivalgoer spends 3.2 days at Sundance. Utahns spent 2.3 days at the festival on average, while the length of the average out-of-stater’s visit was five days.