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Ticketmaster refines refund policy after backlash from Canadian concertgoers

Click to play video 'Ticketmaster criticized for policy on events impacted by COVID-19' Ticketmaster criticized for policy on events impacted by COVID-19
WATCH: Ticketmaster criticized for policy on events impacted by COVID-19

After widespread backlash from Canadian and American concertgoers, Ticketmaster has changed its tune about whether refunds would be offered for shows postponed due to COVID-19.

In a statement, Ticketmaster’s president said the company would begin a refund program “on a rolling basis, for all events impacted by COVID-19.”

The changes are set to begin May 1 and will apply to both cancelled and postponed shows. Customers will be offered refunds for either of these circumstances “within 30 days once a show has been cancelled or new dates have been finalized,” according to a statement sent to Global News.

Fans should receive an email from Ticketmaster to initiate a full refund once it applies and will have 30 days to request a refund, should they want one. There will also be an option to receive credit for a cancelled or postponed show or donate the ticket to health-care workers through Live Nation’s Hero Nation program.

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

The previous policy, which saw the ticketing agency and its parent company, Live Nation Entertainment, was criticized on social media by concertgoers who alleged the wording of their refund policy was changed without notice.

Initially, according to dozens of fans online, Ticketmaster said ticketholders could receive refunds for “postponed, rescheduled or cancelled” events. That policy was altered at some point, fans alleged, later listing only “cancellation” as being eligible for a refund.

Screenshots that appear to show the differing policies were published by several websites, including the New York Times. Ticketmaster did not address the veracity of those images in requests from Global News. Ticketmaster acknowledged that it provided updated guidelines on March 12 regarding COVID-19-related changes but said its purchase policy never changed.

The upheaval over the policy made its way to both U.S. and Canadian lawmakers.

Click to play video 'What’s cancelled or postponed amid the coronavirus pandemic?' What’s cancelled or postponed amid the coronavirus pandemic?
What’s cancelled or postponed amid the coronavirus pandemic?

New York state senator James Skoufis announced an investigation into ticketing companies, including Ticketmaster, on April 16 and asked the state attorney general to open a separate investigation into the company. Two Democratic members of U.S. Congress — Katie Porter, of California, and Bill Pascrell, of New Jersey — also called on ticketing companies to refund fan’s money.

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One Canadian MP has joined the calls for an investigation as well.

Brian Masse, the NDP MP for Windsor West and the party’s industry critic, has called on Canada’s Competition Bureau to launch an investigation “into the entire market structure and the need for specific consumer protections.”

“The evaluation of possible monopolistic behaviour and the need for a potential break-up to create competition must be undertaken,” he told Global News in an email.

Masse criticized the government for its handling of past complaints with the company — particularly its controversy surrounding ticket resales and scalpers. The Competition Bureau later ruled that Ticketmaster did not contravene the Competition Act after investigating allegations and public complaints that it used internal software to facilitate the mass scalping of tickets.

Masse said the bureau “used kid gloves on their scalper scandal that didn’t work.”

“And now consumers pay… again,” he tweeted.

When asked about the calls for investigations in the U.S. and Canada, Ticketmaster provided a letter from President Jared Smith, which was in response to Porter and Pascrell. In it, Smith says the industry is facing an “unprecedented time” with more than 30,000 events. He pointed to the power being in the hands of event organizers, adding “our clients, nor Ticketmaster, intend to withhold refunds on postponed shows.”

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

The amended policy still leaves customers in the lurch, according to Masse.

“People need refunds and should have them immediately and not suffer costs nor debt from phantom events that never happened,” he told Global News in an email.

“Hypothetical ‘reschedule dates’ months, if not years, into the future is not fair nor reasonable for consumers.”

Derek Pacheco, of Kitchener, Ont., felt the sting of Ticketmaster’s policy confusion when the company’s website listed a show he had tickets to as postponed, despite the organizer having cancelled it. This prevented him from being eligible to request a refund, he told Global News at the time.

The new policy concerns him as well.

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Canadian music legends take to social media amid coronavirus outbreak

Pacheco said he has tickets to a Foo Fighters show in Hamilton that was initially scheduled for May 20. The show was rescheduled near the end of March and is now set for October.

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He’s worried the show doesn’t fall under eligibility for a refund since the tweaked policy states full refunds are optional “within 30 days once a show has been cancelled or new dates have been finalized.”

The refund effort should cover most concerts and festivals through July, according to Billboard, while tickets for events in August and the fall that haven’t been cancelled will be addressed at a later date.

“Pandemic situation aside, I would be unable to attend the new date as of today, so I require a refund for this show,” he said, adding that he’ll “wait and see” once the May 1 policy rolls out, as he may be eligible.

“I’m usually fairly optimistic about things, but looking at how poorly Ticketmaster has handled this right from the start, I’m not going to unclench until the refunds are in my account.”

— with files from the Canadian Press