It’s bad enough we don’t have any shows to go to now.
It’s worse that we might not have shows for more than a year.
But the bleakest, most anger-inducing part of all of this? Ticketmaster, StubHub and Eventbrite have changed their refund policies, making it even harder for concertgoers to get their money back at a time when they might really need it.
Ticketmaster now says its policy has not changed, that refunds have been the discretion of “clients” who utilize ticket-selling capabilities offered by the company, and the massive amount of cancellations and postponements and the uncertain about when things will be running again has led to “organizers needing additional time to reschedule their events before deciding to offer refund options.”
More on that in a minute.
Last week, Billboard reported that a Wisconsin man has filed a $5 million USD class action lawsuit against StubHub for not refunding money he spent on an NHL game, now suspended due to coronavirus. The plaintiff, Matthew McMillan, accuses StubHub of breach of contract and negligent misrepresentation and is seeking to prohibit StubHub from issuing vouchers worth 120% of a ticket’s price instead of refunds and to go back to its original refund policy.
“McMillan says StubHub told him he could not receive a refund because the game had not been canceled but only postponed, despite the fact that he had purchased his ticket with StubHub’s money-back guarantee policy and that he is all but certain the game will eventually be canceled,” Billboard reported. “He says he was told he would be given a coupon that expires in 12 months and not the monetary refund he requested.”
Important in the legal filing is a March 12 email sent from StubHub President Sukhinder Singh Cassidy, saying refunds would be issued for canceled events OR customers could get coupons for 20% more than the original order price. Almost two weeks later, the policy was amended, saying that if an event was canceled and not rescheduled, customers would get “a refund or credit to use on a future purchase, as determined in StubHub’s sole discretion (unless a refund is required by law).”
Nick Coulson, McMillan’s attorney, told the magazine that “Dumping promised refunds for expiring coupons during the time of greatest financial suffering in recent history is cruel and wrong. Especially because people have no idea if they’ll even be able to use the coupons — we don’t know what the next 12 months are going to look like. To the extent that StubHub claims financial constraints have forced its hand (into its customers’ pockets), those constraints are entirely of its own making. Through this action, we hope to provide people some small bit of relief during this uncertain time.”
StubHub wasn’t alone. On the top of Eventbrite’s refund information page, the company says it is experiencing a record number of inquiries about refunds, cancellations and postponements, quickly noting that it allows individual venues and events to set their own policies.
“In most cases, you’ll want to check the policy first before reaching out to the organizer or Eventbrite. If the event you registered for has a refund policy, you’ll find it posted on the event listing and the order confirmation email you received after purchasing.”
Customers are instructed to review their order and look for a “request a refund” button and follow the instructions. “If you don’t see a ‘Request a Refund,’ it’s likely that the organizer may not be granting refunds or it’s past the deadline to submit a refund request. Click ‘Contact the Organizer’ to reach out to the organizer with your request.”
UPDATE: I spoke with co-founder Kevin Hartz who explained that Eventbrite works as a facilitator for small venues, artists, and a massive variety of mom’n’pop operations. Refunds are at their discretion. However, given the severity of the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus crisis, it may be extremely difficult for Eventbrite’s customers to return any money because it’s the only thing keeping them afloat right.
Live Nation (who owns Ticketmaster), which has US$2 billion in reserves (i.e. money from tickets sold). Eventbrite does not have anything like that because the money has already moved through to its customers.
On March 16, still relatively early in the coronavirus-inspired shutdown, the company said it would be withholding its first quarter earnings report.
“The global pandemic and the impact on the live events industry is unprecedented,” said Julia Hartz, Eventbrite’s Chief Executive Officer, in a statement, BusinessWire reported. “We are working diligently to ensure the well-being of our global workforce and support our customers as they make important decisions about their events through this period of time. The year started off strong across the board, and we are now seeing a material impact to our business from the virus. While the ultimate magnitude of this near-term impact is unclear at this time, we remain confident in our go forward strategy, our market position and the long-term demand for live experiences.”
Just the month before, Eventbrite had projected a first-quarter revenue of $84 to $88 million USD and total 2020 revenue of $342 to $359 million. So much for that. The company has had to downsize its workforce by almost 50%.
The most egregious change, however, looks to be from Ticketmaster. Fans have noticed the ticket giant changed the language on its website. “Whereas a few weeks ago, it said that people can get refunds ‘if your event is postponed, rescheduled or canceled,’ now it only lists cancellation as a basis for getting your money back, though it suggests there may be other circumstances in which refunds might be considered,” the New York Times reports.
For people who purchased tickets to an event that’s later canceled, it might take up to 30 days for the refund to be processed.
“In the past, with a routine volume of event interruptions, we and our event organizers have been able to consistently offer more flexibility with refunds for postponed and rescheduled events,” Ticketmaster told the Times. “However, considering the currently unprecedented volume of affected events, we are focused on supporting organizers as they work to determine venue availability, new dates and refund policies, while rescheduling thousands of events in what continues to be an evolving situation.”
Ticketmaster has heard the anger and seems to be wanting to make amends. In an updated statement, the company says if an event’s organizer is offering refunds for a reschedule event, a refund link will be visible under the event in your Ticketmaster account. Please note that given the unprecedented circumstances, event organizers are constantly assessing the situation and making determinations regarding refunds. If your event is not currently enabled for refunds, check back later, as this status may change.”
UPDATE: Ticketmaster has released another statement addressing concerns about refunds, canceled and postponed concerts and the issues brought up by concertgoers online.
“Ticketmaster serves as the sales platform for event organizers worldwide. Our standard practice is for our clients to hold the cash from their ticket sales. Clients using our platform also retain the ability to set individual policies for their postponed or rescheduled events,” the company says in a statement provided Tuesday.
“Typically, event organizers have had the flexibility to offer refunds for virtually all postponed and rescheduled events. However, the unprecedented volume of over 30,000 events impacted to date, coupled with continued uncertainty over setting new dates while awaiting clearance from regional governments, has led to event organizers needing additional time to reschedule their events before deciding to offer refund options.
“As of today, over 11,000 events, including over 4,000 postponed sports, concerts and arts events, have already authorized refunds. While we cannot guarantee all event organizers will offer refunds on their rescheduled events, we anticipate the vast majority will make a refund window available once new dates have been determined. In addition, Ticketmaster continues to issue refunds for all cancelled events.
“The entire Ticketmaster team is working from home and doing its best to respond to all fans and clients,” the company concludes. “We will continue to keep fans up to date on the status of events via email and via our Covid-19 event portal.