Ticketing company Ticketmaster has issued a statement in response to an outcry from music fans after it recently adjusted the language on its web site regarding refund policies. A few weeks ago — before the coronavirus outbreak forced the cancelation or postponement of most large events and public gatherings — it said people could get refunds "if your event is postponed, rescheduled or canceled"; now it lists only cancelation as a reason for getting your money back, though it suggests there may be other circumstances in which refunds might be considered.
With many artists opting to postpone or reschedule tours, sometimes to yet-to-be-determined dates, this essentially means obtaining a cash refund is impossible for quite some time even as the public faces financial struggles on a vast scale. A backlash has been building against Ticketmaster as a result.
Ticketmaster's April 14 statement, which appears to apply only to customers in the United States and Canada, reads as follows:
"Ticketmaster serves as the sales platform for event organizers worldwide. Our standard practice is for 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.
"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 canceled events.
"The entire Ticketmaster team is working from home and doing its best to respond to all fans and clients. We will continue to keep fans up to date on the status of events via email and via our Covid-19 event portal."
A Wisconsin man recently sued StubHub — the biggest marketplace for ticket resales — because the company dropped its refund policy, offering instead to issue coupons worth 120% of the purchase price in lieu of refunds.
StubHub said that the company had changed its longstanding refund policy because the coronavirus crisis's impact on the touring industry had put the company in an untenable position. "We are facing significant timing delays in recouping funds from the thousands of sellers on our platform, and expect these challenges to continue in the coming months," StubHub president Sukhinder Singh Cassidy wrote in an e-mail to users.
Last month, S&P Global indicated that it is considering a serious downgrade of Ticketmaster's parent company, Live Nation, after taking on about $3.3 billion in long-term debt last year. "While the extent and duration of the impact on the live events industry are uncertain, we believe Live Nation Entertainment Inc.'s operating performance could be hurt by the growing number of postponed events, lower-than-expected attendance, or any future cancellations," S&P Global said.
There is little indication as to when we might get the coronavirus under control to the extent that public gatherings and normal business can resume. Even some of the more conservative estimates say certain areas may be locked down until the end of the summer and possibly into the fall.
Over the weekend, Dr. Ezekiel "Zeke" Emanuel, one of the key architects of the Affordable Care Act and a special adviser to the director general of the World Health Organization, told The New York Times that he doesn't anticipate it to be safe to return to concerts, sporting events and other mass public gatherings for another 18 months.