Events businesses are petitioning for help amid coronavirus cancellations

March 16, 2020, 10:00 PM UTC

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The events industry has been ravaged financially by a mass number of cancellations—weddings, corporate events, brand launches, bar mitzvahs, trade shows, and more—but thousands are banding together to demand federal aid from the U.S. government.

In less than 24 hours, a petition that requests a federal aid package for the small businesses of the events industry due to COVID-19 garnered more than 20,000 signatures on At the time of publishing, it was up to nearly 190,000 . And the creators, the team behind Digerati Productions, an audio/visual company, are estimating they can get to 3 million.

“The damage will be irreversible for the industry,” explains Isaac Rothwell, Digerati’s national director of operations, about the inspiration for the petition. “We predict an economic disaster, resulting in the widespread exit of vast numbers of staff and business due to insurmountable financial hardships, bankruptcy, homelessness, and loss of all stable support systems. We really wanted to give a unified voice.”

Rothwell said they won’t stop until they see a response from the federal government, and a social media campaign #SaveEvents has even sprung up to share the word.

The events industry is made of hundreds of thousands of small businesses that provide a variety of services to all-things gatherings: planning, florals, design, photography, catering, rentals, audio/visual equipment, music, and more. It employs 5.9 million people, according to the Oxford Economics and Events Industry Council, including thousands of freelancers and contractors to aid with stage setup, check-in, crowd control, security, and production. These are the people behind your company’s snazzy holiday party, your neighbor’s bat mitzvah, and your cousin’s wedding as well as that business conference in Las Vegas and brand activation at SXSW in Austin. But as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak leading to rapidly expanding travel restrictions and caps on large gatherings in many states, these business owners and their teams are not just seeing current income fall, but projected revenue into 2021.

Elite Core Audio, an equipment manufacturer for live events and productions, quickly started putting together statistics on the economic impact to the industry. Within days, the fallout from canceled events has been extreme. Businesses, on average, have lost 12 events to because of cancellation, with an average loss of almost $160,000. Nearly half of the businesses they spoke with anticipate layoffs, with the majority coming to contracted labor and freelancers. The gig-based businesses of the wedding industry believe it can affect up to 37% of their yearly income—and this is just the start. The majority are majorly concerned about the future of their businesses.

The proposed package asks for emergency medicare health insurance to cover uninsured business owners, contractors and laid-off employees; $200 billion in low-interest federally backed business liquidity loans; and $100 billion in employee retention grants. Rothwell says that the latter is extremely important given the government mandated shutdown on gatherings. “As a service-based economy of live events and business meetings, we cannot sustain taking on the level of debt to support employees without any ability to perform revenue generating activities during this time of a large gathering shutdown,” he adds. To put it simply, the general lack of work, and expected work in the coming months, has dire effects on the events industry.

Thousands of events-related personnel—from bartenders to planners to venue owners—have opted in. But it goes beyond them: a comedian who needs a club to perform, a theater stagehand, a tour manager with no tour, a harpist who plays weddings. Exploring the reasons for signing include details like the “loss of $60,000” in revenue for two months and a photographer who has lost all of his events for the foreseeable future.

Digerati Productions has warehouse hubs across the U.S. and span the events industry, from trade shows to corporate events, and its team immediately saw the impact that COVID-19 was having on their vendors and friends everywhere. CEO Randy Pruitt says the tipping point came when they were doing their own disaster planning for the next three months.

“Everything ended up being our worst-case scenario at every juncture,” Pruitt says. “The petition is the only thing we could think of to help the people and companies of our industry survive the rapidly developing situation.”

More coronavirus coverage from Fortune:

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—The oil sector takes its next hit: Coronavirus on offshore rigs
—Some of the most extreme ways companies are combating coronavirus
—How luxury designers in Italy’s fashion heartland are facing coronavirus
—Amazon tells employees to work from home if they can. Warehouse workers can’t
—Why Dollar General thinks coronavirus can help business
—Coronavirus may not be all bad for tech. Consider the “stay at home” stocks

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