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Cancelled or postponed? Fans rage over Ticketmaster refund policy amid COVID-19

Ticketmaster criticized for policy on events impacted by COVID-19
WATCH: Ticketmaster criticized for policy on events impacted by COVID-19

Fans are shining a spotlight on Ticketmaster over what they say are unfair policies preventing them from being refunded for shows postponed over the coronavirus pandemic.

When the novel coronavirus fanned out across North America, large-scale events fell victim to physical-distancing measures intended to curb the spread. Everything from professional sporting events to theatre performances and stadium world tours has been cancelled, postponed or delayed — many with no known reschedule date.

READ MORE: Concerts postponed, cancelled due to coronavirus — Full list of North American shows

At first, according to dozens of fans online, Ticketmaster said ticketholders could receive refunds if their event was “postponed, rescheduled or cancelled.” But fans allege the ticketing company, run by Live Nation Entertainment, has since altered the wording of the policy, listing only “cancellation” as being eligible for a full refund.

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Ryan William, of Toronto, was thrilled when he scored tickets to R&B singer Tinashe’s April 27 show in Toronto. The $100 price tag was feasible when he first bought it, but when he found himself out of work because of the pandemic, he decided it was best to get a refund.

William said the show was officially postponed in early April. When he went to request a refund, he was surprised to find out he was ineligible.

READ MORE: Live Nation pauses all 2020 tours due to coronavirus

“What makes it worse is that they quietly changed the policy overnight, not even informing their users that this change was made,” he told Global News. “People are just finding out now as they realize the likeliness of postponed events happening is dwindling for the year. In addition to that, it’s unlikely many can reschedule their lives to fit a new date.”

William said he reached out to Ticketmaster for answers. He also tweeted the artist herself, who he claims responded first.

“She explained to me that even she wasn’t aware what was happening and that she was sorry it is happening,” he said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if even artists are unsure of what’s happening.”

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Ticketmaster acknowledged that it provided updated guidelines on March 12 regarding COVID-19-related changes, but said its purchase policy never changed.

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Several websites, including the New York Times, have published what appear to be screenshots of a Ticketmaster page. The first screenshot is from March 13 and states refunds are available for “postponed, rescheduled or cancelled” dates. The second is as of March 14 and states refunds are available “if your event is cancelled.” Ticketmaster did not answer multiple questions about the veracity of the screenshots, which appear to show a change in language for their refund policy.

The policy, as per the website on April 15, indicates refunds are processed automatically for cancelled events, but that the event organizer may set its own “refund limitations” on postponed or rescheduled shows.

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“Typically, event organizers have had the flexibility to offer refunds for virtually all postponed and rescheduled events,” a Ticketmaster spokesperson said in an email to Global News.

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“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.”

Until then, existing policies are enforced, and refunds will be issued for “all cancelled events.”

“Over 11,000 events, including over 4,000 postponed sports, concerts and arts events, have already authorized refunds,” Ticketmaster continued.

“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.”

READ MORE: Big-name music artists taking performances online during coronavirus pandemic

However, some fans believe there’s a discrepancy between what Ticketmaster lists as postponed and what event organizers have deemed cancelled.

As part of its COVID-19 response, Ticketmaster launched what it calls a “comprehensive information portal” intended to provide fans with updates on each event status.

Derek Pacheco, of Kitchener, Ont., believes incorrect information is sometimes listed on that portal.

He said he found out on March 11 that the Decibel Magainze Tour set for April 8 in Toronto was cancelled. But when he went on Ticketmaster’s website to request a refund, he says the show was listed as postponed, not cancelled.

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Pacheco contacted the concert organizer — Decibel Magazine — directly and said he was told the tour is “definitively cancelled and would not be rescheduled.”

A screenshot image captured by Derek Pacheco on April 2.
A screenshot image captured by Derek Pacheco on April 2.

“They have continuously placed the blame on the promotor for this event not being changed to cancelled, despite the fact that Ticketmaster is the one who codes their website, and has coded all the other shows on this tour as cancelled,” he said.

After back-and-forth emails with Ticketmaster, which Global News has seen, Pacheco contacted the show’s organizer again. Decibel Magazine told Pacheco that it had contacted the ticketing service about the error and that the show should be updated as “cancelled” within a couple days, which would then make him eligible for a refund.

As of April 14, the show was still listed as postponed.

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“They continue to place the blame on the promoter and refuse to issue a refund,” he said.

Global News asked Ticketmaster about the Decibel show, but did not receive a response.

A screenshot image captured by Derek Pacheco on April 14.
A screenshot image captured by Derek Pacheco on April 14.

Sarah Prodenzino, of Oshawa, Ont., had two tickets to the same show. She noticed the same “postponed” designation on Ticketmaster but knew it had been cancelled by the organizer, inhibiting her from requesting a refund for the now-past show.

She also had two tickets to Pearl Jam in Ottawa for March 7 and four tickets to Lady Gaga in Toronto scheduled for Aug. 9.

“In total, Ticketmaster is currently holding $1,280.85 worth of tickets for shows that I have no idea when or if they will be rescheduled,” Prodenzino said.

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On top of that, she worries about what happens if she can’t make rescheduled dates. If they’re not eligible for a refund, then “I will have to attempt to resell them,” she said.

“That is extremely frustrating,” she told Global News.

“It’s unethical to not allow people refunds, especially during a worldwide pandemic, when people’s financial situations may have drastically changed.”

All three of the ticketholders want Ticketmaster to offer refunds for postponed shows given the uncertainty of the future of concerts and shows in North America.

But a simple heads-up would’ve been sufficient too, William said.

“They have a database of emails. It’s not hard to send a memo out or make a public statement on their website and social media… to properly communicate policy changes.”