How StubHub Screwed Over a Laker Fan But He Lived to Tell The Tale

Jesse Sandler bought tickets to the Lakers' final home game of the season on StubHub. Then Kobe announced his retirement, and everything went sideways.

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Jan 7 2016, 3:17pm

Ever bought scalped tickets outside of a game? Ever heard of a ticket scalper buying back their tickets, just to turn around and sell them to some else offering 10 times more?

Bigger question: ever think that could happen to you when buying on StubHub?

Lifelong Laker fan Jesse Sandler found out the answer the hard way—with Sandler ultimately comparing the feeling he got from dealing with StubHub to his parents' divorce.

Thanks to the magic and immediacy of the internet (specifically, TheLeadSports, and its comments section), Sandler's story found its happy ending in roughly 24 hours. But for weeks over the holidays, it looked like it would go down as a sports fan's worst nightmare.

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On November 11, 2015, Sandler scooped up four tickets for the Lakers home finale against the Jazz at Staples Center on April 13, astutely assuming it could (and would) be Kobe Bryant's last home game in purple and gold. Cost: $906.77

Eighteen days later, Kobe's Dear Basketball letter made his retirement official. And predictably, ticket prices for a seemingly meaningless spring game against Utah soared to the tune of thousands per ticket. The new value of Sandler's seats: almost $6,000.

But about two weeks after that, on December 15, Sandler got the bad news from StubHub via an absurdly typo-laden email: Sandler's tickets were "listed incorrectly" and his order was cancelled. Voila.

"I don't remember any time feeling at the end of such an injustice," Sandler said. "It felt like it was illegal. I know it may not be, because of loopholes, but it felt like some illegal action had happened."

An arduous email and phone back-and-forth ensued, and a candid StubHub employee (eventually) conceded the culprit: a policy allowing for sellers to pay 20-percent of the original ticket price (in this case, about $180) to take their tickets back, and under the possible threat that the sellers "could" be banned from selling the tickets in subsequent months.

Along the way, Sandler did receive $250 in vouchers from StubHub, but with that and his original ticket refund, he still didn't have close to enough for even one of the now-valued $1,500 a pop tickets.

Thankfully for Sandler, a mutual friend put him in touch with TheLeadSports—a Los Angeles-based daily sports email-newsletter—which gave him a platform to shed light on the painful debacle in vivid detail. (Full disclosure: I endorsed the newsletter on its website and was briefly a contributor).

On Wednesday, the story went live, and within hours, the comments section was flooded with outrage, similarly unjust anecdotes of tickets taken back, and even a call to action for a class action suit against StubHub.

Did I do that? Photo by Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports.

And the best of all the commenters? An offer from Jason Durbin, VP of Ticket Operations at Tickets for Less, offering Sandler four better seats in the same section 106—for free.

Sensing an opportunity for some good publicity in the wake of StubHub's screw-up, Tickets for Less President Dan Rouen flew out to L.A. from Kansas City to give them to Sandler personally.

"The story [of what happened with StubHub] is so surreal, but it has happened to so, so many people," TheLead founder Tim Livingston said. "Jesse's story has the potential to change the industry as a whole."

Of course, if StubHub changes course on their policy allowing sellers to reclaim tickets after demand spikes—something they did make good on for Derek Jeter's final games at Fenway—it could go a long way as a remedy in avoiding similarly sticky situations in the future.

In an email to VICE Sports, StubHub spokesperson Cameron Papp said that Jesse's case was a mistake: "Frankly, this situation was not handled correctly and Jesse should have received tickets to the game." He also referenced StubHub's Fan Protection Guarantee. However, per the guarantee, all that buyers are promised is a refund, which is what Jesse got.

StubHub did reach out to Sandler on Wednesday morning via a random Florida phone number (right after TheLead story was posted), and an employee named Jill offered her apologies and said the company hoped to resolve the situation. By Wednesday night, StubHub had tweeted and pinned a direct, Chris Farley-inspired response to the story, promising to "get Jesse to the game" but little else.

But Sandler had a long work day as a clinical social worker to attend to, and left it at that.

Today, he'll have a different early morning chat: as a guest on Kevin and Bean's morning show on 106.7 KROQ in Los Angeles.

"I didn't get any impression they're thinking about [changing their policy]," Sandler said of StubHub. "They called me before my work day started, and were trying to sweep this under before it caught legs. The moral of the story is they will screw you over unless you make a big stink in public."

"I feel great now," Sandler continued. "But the goal of this whole thing is to make sure this stuff doesn't happen to other people. When it first happened, I told my fiancee: 'Imagine if we had kids and I promised them we were going to the game, and then we couldn't. That would be awful.' ... At this point, I'm not gonna use StubHub anymore. I'm a huge sports and music fan, but I just can't use them out of principle."

In the end, thanks to a small dose of sports journalism advocacy, Sandler's story got a happy ending after all: with four tickets in hand to what will, barring injury, be Kobe's swan song at Staples Center.

For the rest of sports fans, though, the issue of online sellers and buy-backs probably isn't going away any time soon, barring a momentous change in policy—changes that will no doubt be spelled out in obscure, complicated user agreements. Anyone who has ever bought a ticket on SeatGeek, for instance, knows that brokers can overstock their listings and pull back (I've been burned). The websites for both StubHub and Tickets For Less both feature the words "All Sales Final" prominently—despite the fact sometimes, at least in StubHub's case, they aren't.

So for the time being, maybe you are better off taking your chances just scalping off the guys dodging the police a block or two outside the stadium. Because, hey, at least you know what you're signing up for.

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