The following letter was submitted to Billboard by U.S. Representatives Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) and Katie Porter (D-CA). Representative Pascrell is the a co-sponsor of the BOSS ACT which would regulate parts of the ticketing business and create greater transparency for consumers.
The coronavirus pandemic has indefinitely postponed nearly all concerts, sports games, and large group gatherings. Thousands of Americans who purchased tickets for these events are now in a financial limbo: unable to attend and simultaneously unable to secure a refund because of anti-consumer policies at the country’s largest ticket sales company: Ticketmaster.
The consequences of coronavirus are widespread, causing unbearable economic hardships. At least 26 million working Americans have filed for unemployment assistance, small businesses are shuttered, and lines at food banks evoke images of black-and-white, Depression-era breadlines. This national emergency demands an all-hands-on-deck response – and not only from elected officials.
Congress has moved swiftly to provide checks directly to families and small businesses to help them stay afloat, but we know that these programs are not enough. The coming months will present brutal financial decisions for many Americans.
Faced with these dire choices, millions of Americans were puzzled by the refusal of Ticketmaster to offer refunds. A New York Times investigation showed that as the pandemic forced strong public health guidelines, Ticketmaster stealthily altered the refund policy on its webpage, removing a guarantee that fans could receive a refund for any postponed events.
When we learned of this policy change, we wrote to executives from Ticketmaster, and its parent company, Live Nation, and demanded an explanation. We called on them to stop refusing refunds and to revert to their longstanding policy. Ticketmaster’s characterized the changes to its refund policy as merely providing “clarity” and also pointed the finger at others, saying that its failure to give consumers their money back was the fault of individual event organizers.
Given the company’s unchallenged power over the live events market, these claims insulted Americans’ intelligence – and we told Ticketmaster executives just that.
The former CEO of Ticketmaster’s parent Live Nation, Irving Azoff, is one of the most influential figures in entertainment. He scoffed at our objections to the bad behavior by the behemoth that he helped create, labeling complaints about refunds as shameful.
A decade ago, Ticketmaster, the nation’s largest live events ticket seller, was allowed to merge with Live Nation, the nation’s largest events promoter. Despite promises that the merger would be good for consumers, the exact opposite has come true. Ticketmaster-Live Nation has squeezed customers for endless fees, stifled the marketplace, and crushed competition. Ticketmaster’s refusal to issue full refunds during a pandemic fits within a broader pattern of abuse befitting of a monopoly that believes itself above scrutiny.
Encountering a tidal wave of populist anger from customers on social media, the ticketing giant finally moved to reason. On April 17, Ticketmaster created a 30-day window for customers to receive refunds beginning May 1. Still facing backlash, this past week the window was extended to 60 days.
Ticketmaster’s policy reversal is a welcome start. But the company can and should go further to ensure that every single person is properly notified and able to receive a refund.
We ask that Ticketmaster proactively contact consumers about refunds, using the personal data it collects for consumer accounts’ such as cell phone numbers and emails to reach people. With rapidly changing circumstances, consumers are overwhelmed right now. That’s why Congress acted to extend the tax filing deadline, and many retailers have extended the period for returns. Ticketmaster should give purchasers until one week before the scheduled event date to request a refund.
And regardless of event cancelation or delay, any customer who wants a refund should receive it. Anything less than that is unacceptable and could be subject to even more attention from Congress.
To be sure, COVID-19 has decimated the live event industry. As lawmakers, we will continue to fight for the small venues, stagehands, performers, struggling artists, and working people hurt by this public health crisis. But a major corporation like Ticketmaster should not hold customers’ money hostage, especially during a pandemic.
Americans have enough on their plates as it is.