Earlier this year, a California man filed a class-action lawsuit against Ticketmaster, alleging that the company changed its policies, making it more difficult for customers to receive refunds for concerts that have been cancelled, rescheduled, or postponed indefinitely due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
According to NBC Bay Area, Derek Hansen's lawsuit seeks damages for breach of contract, false advertising and fraud, and it also accuses Ticketmaster of violating the California Consumers Legal Remedies Act. Hansen said that, in February, he dropped $590 for tickets for two Rage Against the Machine concerts in Oakland. When those shows were postponed due to the pandemic, he tried and failed to get a refund through Ticketmaster.
His complaint alleges that until March 13, Ticketmaster allowed refunds for "postponed or rescheduled events." It then changed its policy, writing that it would only issue refunds for concerts and other performances that had been cancelled— not the ones that had been postponed, even if a new date had not been set.
The ticket seller, owned by Live Nation, previously had a statement on its website saying that refunds would be offered for cancelled, postponed and rescheduled events. In recent days that changed and now, the site simply says: “Refunds are available if your event is cancelled.” It also writes that refunds could be available in "as soon as 30 days," but doesn't explain what the other side of that time frame looks like. (It could be "as soon as 30 days" or it could be "or sometime before the earth crashes into the sun." There is no "no later than.")
"Ticketmaster is the company that made the representations to consumers, set the policy for the ability to get a refund, and took consumers’ money. So, it’s up to that company to make them whole," Marie McCrary, an attorney with Gutride Safier, the law firm representing Hansen, said. "I think they just don’t want to pay back consumers the money they paid for these events that aren’t going to take place as scheduled."
Hansen is far from the only concert-goer who still has hundreds or even thousands of dollars tied up in what are, for now, unusable concert tickets. "By some estimates, consumers have spent more than $1 billion on tickets to disrupted events," the complaint reads.
Although Ticketmaster president Jared Smith has said that the company had already offered refunds on 100 percent of the events that have been cancelled, and on "more than 80 percent" of the events that have been postponed or rescheduled, that still leaves a lot of customers who are waiting to get their money back. (And, considering that 32 percent of U.S. households missed their July rent or mortgage payments, having that extra cash could really help right now.)
As a result, the r/Ticketmaster subreddit has basically become a support group, as would-be concertgoers write about being unable to get their refunds, while others dutifully respond to tell them not to give up. Although Ticketmaster's website says that it will "automatically refund your ticket order" if an event is cancelled, an "automatic" refund can still require significant effort. "It took me two painful calls to get my money back," one Redditor wrote. "Also had to request credit on their site twice. First call they told me there was a technical error in their systems. A month later I called again and they said it would be credited. And then they did 30 days later."
Another said that they called Ticketmaster and a rep implied that a show could be eternally "postponed"—which means that refunds would not be issued. "I had to ask a couple of times 'OK but, hypothetically, could a show stay in the postponed state indefinitely?' and was eventually told yes," they wrote. "I wish they would just cancel it so I could get a refund, but that's [Ticketmaster] for ya."
Some ticketholders have been further confused by the "60-day policy" which means that refunds for some events are not available until 60 days after it was officially postponed— not 60 days from the actual event date. After the 60 days have elapsed, customers have a 30-day window in which they can request a refund, which may or may not be processed in "as soon as 30 days." (But when a show is rescheduled, then customers only have 30 days from the time the new date was announced to request a refund. This is all totally clear and easy to follow!)
That's not even a full list of the challenges and complications that people have encountered while trying to get refunds for concerts that probably shouldn't happen this year. A once-popular option to chat with a live representative seems to have disappeared from the Ticketmaster website. There have been other reports of getting "Try Again Later" errors on the site; of hearing automated messages that no customer service reps are available to take their call; or of being locked out of their accounts. (My personal but not-at-all-unique experience involved being prompted to change my password before I could log in, but the delay in receiving the emails containing the numerical codes required for two-factor authentication meant that the codes all expired by the time I tried to input them.)
Ticketmaster has repeatedly attempted to defend itself by pushing the blame to the event organizers themselves. "Clients using our platform also retain the ability to set individual policies for their postponed or rescheduled events,” a company spokesperson told CTV News.
"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 […] has led to event organizers needing additional time to reschedule their events before deciding to offer refund options." VICE has reached out to Ticketmaster for additional comment but has not yet recieved a response.
An article on Ticketmaster's Help page repeats that refunds for rescheduled shows will be available if the "event's organizer is offering refunds," while on Twitter, it wrote that "event organizers make the call." That's still an unhelpful cop-out, since cash-strapped customers didn't buy the tickets directly from the organizers, nor can it contact them directly to request a refund. (And that's one of the arguments made in that class action lawsuit: Ticketmaster is the company that took everyone's money, and therefore should be liable to return it if customers are not receiving the product—i.e., entry to an event—that they paid for.)
Meanwhile, a recent Reddit post is the closest thing to optimism that we'll probably get in 2020. "I had four tickets for BTS and requested a refund on May 26," it read. "I just checked and I had actually gotten my money back on [June] 24th. Stay hopeful!"
UPDATE 7/10/20: In an email to VICE, Ticketmaster provided the following statement regarding its refund policies:
Ticketmaster does not set the refund policies for postponed or rescheduled shows – event organizers do… As an update to your 80% [of refunds issued] figure, now more than 90% of live events impacted by COVID-19 have had refund options made available to fans, with more being added every day. Ticketmaster does not set the refund policy for postponed shows… refunds are being made available for these impacted shows every day at the discretion of event organizers, who we’re diligently working with to make fans whole.