Ticketmaster is finalizing a plan to begin offering refunds for concerts by Billie Eilish, Taylor Swift and artists performing more in more that 18,000 concerts and events that had to be postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Starting May 1, once postponed shows set new dates, fans will begin receiving emails from Ticketmaster to initiate a full refund. Fans will then have 30 days to request a refund, otherwise their ticket will be good for the rescheduled date.
Live Nation will also offer fans an option to receive credit for cancelled and postponed shows through the Rock When You Are Ready program, or they can donate their tickets to health care workers through the Hero Nation program.
“For cancelled shows, refunds will be automatically processed within 30 days, unless fans voluntarily opt into other programs,” a statement from the company reads. “Live Nation venues will offer fans an option to receive a 150% credit for the value of their tickets to be used for a future Live Nation show. Fans will also be able to donate the proceeds of their refund to a charity to give concert tickets to health care workers, with Live Nation matching ticket donations.”
The refund plan comes after a month of negotiations with five major talent agencies — WME, Paradigm, CAA, ICM and UTA — scheduling meetings with the professional sports leagues looking to reschedule games in the buildings were the shows are set to take place and coordination with AEG who is going to offer refunds to its customers under the same terms and method as Live Nation. In total, Ticketmaster has already cancelled or postponed 30,000 events representing $2 billion in ticket sales and another 25,000 events that are still scheduled to take place through the end of year. Ticketmaster is expecting some of those events will be postponed or canceled throughout the year and will begin offering refunds on a rolling basis.
Ticketmaster has come under fire for not immediately offering refunds after shows were postponed, but company officials tell Billboard the business doesn’t hold ticket sales money. Instead, it forwards the sales revenue to its clients, including promoters like Live Nation and AEG, who then pay deposits to talent agents for the artists booked to play shows.
Under normal circumstances, most rescheduled shows have low refund rates, but Live Nation isn’t sure what is going to happen when fans — some badly in need of cash — are given the chance to receive refunds on their tickets. AEG and Live Nation had to work through thousands of tour deals to lower the risk for shows they’ve already paid artist guarantees on and find ways to share any downside with artists.
While the negotiation played out, a drumbeat of criticism against the company began to build as it worked through the complex logistics of canceling and rescheduling what was supposed to be the busiest summer in live music ever. Sources say Live Nation was hesitant to detail the refund efforts because it didn’t want to negotiate with artists and clients in the press. But as the company stayed tight-lipped, a narrative that Ticketmaster wasn’t going to offer any refunds began to develop and politicians like congress members like freshman Katie Porter (D-CA) and longtime critic Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) accused Live Nation of taking advantage of the pandemic in the interest of profit.
“People across the country are having to make adjustments in their lives to keep everyone safe. Ticketmaster can do its part by giving people their money back,” Porter said in a statement to Billboard. “Let’s be clear: they can do this without government action, and they can do it today. Ticketmaster should do the right thing and stop trying to profit off a pandemic.”
The criticism frustrated Live Nation officials, who had taken large pay cuts to avoid laying off staff, started a $10 million fund to support road crews which were out of work because of the crisis and have kept thousands of people working on the Herculean rescheduling effort via zoom meetings, conference calls and teleconferencing.
From there Ticketmaster will work with venue and promoter clients that have postponed shows, although a source tells Billboard clients have the ultimate say on whether to offer refunds for shows that have been moved to another date. Ticketmaster will encourage venues to offer refunds for a limited window — the company wants to avoid scalpers dumping large blocks of tickets days before a show because the tickets weren’t fetching a high retail price.
The large refund effort should cover most concerts and festivals through July. Tickets for events in August and the fall that haven’t been canceled will be addressed at a later date, if the shows do end up having to be rescheduled or terminated. Refunds for the NBA and NHL games are being controlled by the teams and leagues, Billboard has learned, and are still being worked through.
“It just takes time to work through the math and work with the calendar. When you move a Friday show to a Monday night, you don’t know what is going to happen with the fans,” a source at Live Nation tells Billboard. “We had to move slow to get it right and we hoped by May we would have some clarity on dates and agreed terms.”