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Shuttered Venue Grant Applications Shut Down Hours After Rocky Launch

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“It’s like a bad onsale,” says one venue owner who was unable to apply on Thursday.

Independent venues and promoters have been stalled in their attempts to apply for the Shuttered Venues Operators Grant. Just over four hours after the portal opened on Thursday (April 8), the Small Business Administration was forced to suspend the application process.

"Upon launching the Shuttered Venues Operators Grant (SVOG) application portal on April 8, technical issues arose despite multiple successful tests of the application process," says a representative for the SBA in a statement to Billboard. "After working with our vendors to address the issues as quickly as possible, the SBA determined at approximately 4:15 p.m. EST to shut down the portal to ensure fair and equal access once reopened since this is first come first serve. This decision was not made lightly as we understand the need to get relief quickly to this hard-hit industry."

The statement continues: "Entities can still register in the portal and the SBA will share updates in collaboration with industry associations as well as via social media, direct e-communication with SVOG registrants, and the dedicated SVOG website as they come available. Also, we will once again share advance notice of the time and date for the reopening of the SVOG application portal so entities can be appropriately prepared."

The SBA does not yet know when applications will be reopened but stated, "As soon as possible is the goal."

According to multiple sources who asked to remain anonymous because they are apply for the grants, after the SVOG application portal opened at 12 p.m. EST on Thursday it was rocky from the onset. First, the portal link was not available and then it was not working for many applicants. Once the portal was up and running, applicants were unable to upload any of the documents needed to verify eligibility.

“It’s like a bad onsale,” says one venue owner who was unable to apply. “In order to move through the application, you have to be able to upload documents in support of a lot of questions and the upload functionality isn’t working. Everyone is stuck on the first of four phases of the application.”

By 1:38 p.m. the Small Business Administration posted an update on Twitter stating, “We are experiencing a technical issue with the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant application portal and are working as fast as possible to address it.”

Since the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant was passed in late December, the SBA has been tasked with creating the program and processes from scratch. Andrea Roebker, a regional communications director at the SBA, told Billboard in March that while the SBA was able to distribute Paycheck Protection Program loans soon after the CARES Act passed in March 2020, those were handled by delegated bankers, and the venue grants program is a “different animal,” noting that this is the first time the department has created a grant process focused on for-profit entities.

“The SBA's decision to use Salesforce for its infrastructure was a good one -- the site never actually ‘crashed’ this morning, and was actually quite responsive -- but a series of cascading errors in the application process made it appear to me that the flow didn't receive the testing it needed prior to being released to the public,” says manager at talent management firm Hatchery 17 and vp at event technology company Patron Technology Jason Mastrine, who also experienced issues earlier in the day.

“I can’t imagine being the development people trying to figure this out while all these people are freaking out,” says another venue owner. Applicants are “so stressed out because they're afraid if they make a mistake, they're going to get turned down. And if they get turned down, they're going to lose their business.”

Multiple venue owners have informed Billboard that the don’t believe any applications have been submitted and therefore “everyone is in the same boat.”

“I’ve gotten 20,000 f---ing texts and emails” from other indie operators and promoters, one venue owner stated. “Everyone's having the same problems. Don't worry.”

The SVOG is designed to help businesses facing the most severe financial problems first. Entities that lost 90% of more of their revenue in 2020 as compared to 2019, will receive funding within the first 14 days of awards being handed out. The SBA estimates that those funds will be received by venues meeting the criteria later in April. The next 14 days of fund allocations will go to entities that lost 70% or more, followed by another round for those who lost 25% or more in 2020. At least $2 billion has been set aside for the first tier and for operations with fewer than 50 employees.

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“It’s not going to disappear in the first two hours if you’re in the first tier,” says one venue operator hoping to quell some anxieties. “It’s $16 billion.”

“We all get it -- this wasn't much different than a fan trying to get a ticket to their favorite artist's show and having a bad experience -- but I hope they're able to bounce back quickly,” adds Mastrine. “We are all very anxious to put this behind us and get on with the summer.”