The distinction between cancelled and postponed events is leading to growing consumer unrest over ticketing to concert and sporting events.
The dissatisfaction is rising because ticketing giant Ticketmaster will allow consumer refunds on cancelled events but not on postponed or rescheduled events, and the vast majority of summer sports and concerts fall into the latter category. Until the events are cancelled or rescheduled, ticket purchasers are in limbo.
Ticketmaster policy is to provide refunds on the officially cancelled events, with some delays because of current volume. In one recent televised interview, Joe Berchtold, president of Ticketmaster parent Live Nation, said only about 10 per cent of spring and summer events have been officially cancelled. Ticketmaster cannot provide refunds on the postponed or rescheduled events because the funds from consumer purchases have been provided to event venues and promoters, and a lot of those venues are currently closed. “Ticketmaster doesn’t sell these tickets and sit on a mountain of cash. Ticketmaster sells tickets and gives the cash over to the venues where the events are held,” Berchtold said.
Critics have noted that Live Nation now acts as a promoter, venue owner, artist manager as well as “box office”, since merging with Ticketmaster in 2010.
Ticketmaster’s Canadian web site notes that tickets for postponed and rescheduled events are generally valid for new event dates, although event organizers may choose to offer refunds. Cancelled events generate automatic refunds.
Stubhub is a leading secondary market in which consumers purchase tickets from ticket owners, rather than event promoters. It has similar guidelines for postponed and rescheduled events because current tickets may be valid for new dates. Its web site notes that when events are cancelled, buyers will not receive a refund, “but instead a coupon worth 120% of the original order to be used on StubHub orders until December 31, 2021.” Consumers who sold tickets on StubHub for an event that was later cancelled will see a charge on their payment card, but should see an offsetting credit from the original ticket company.
StubHub faces a major U.S. class action suit after it dropped its FanProtect guarantee to refund all cancelled tickets. StubHub told its users in a recent email that the current crisis has put the company in a difficult 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.”
Both Ticketmaster and StubHub have paid substantial penalties in the past year after Canada’s competition watchdog found uncompetitive behaviour.
Canada’s Competition Bureau issued a warning in July 2017 to ticketing companies to review practices so that the true prices of tickets to sporting and entertainment events were displayed.
A $4.5 million settlement with Ticketmaster Canada was announced in June 2019, after an investigation showed that advertised prices were not attainable because they added mandatory fees – typically more than 20% and as much as 65% – to advertised prices.
In February 2020, Stubhub agreed to pay a $1.3 million penalty after the Bureau found “misleading pricing claims in the online sale of tickets to entertainment and sporting events.” The Bureau found that users could not purchase tickets at advertised prices because of optional fees disclosed later in the transaction process that often added 28% to the price.