AILSA CHANG, HOST:
The coronavirus pandemic has completely shut down concerts and other live events. Some people, like Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, are even predicting that live events won't resume until 2021. So ticket holders are looking for refunds, but as NPR's Andrew Limbong reports, the process has not been that easy.
ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: Cachelle Cronin is a mental health therapist in Vancouver, Wash. She'd bought tickets for six events through Ticketmaster.
CACHELLE CRONIN: So yeah, let's see. I had tickets to Russ, Halsey, the Hella Mega Tour...
LIMBONG: That's the one with Green Day, Weezer, Fall Out Boy.
CRONIN: ...Journey with The Pretenders and...
LIMBONG: You get the point. Cronin says she can't get refunds because new rules Ticketmaster announced last week stipulate that a show has to be either officially canceled or have new dates announced in order for the purchaser to be eligible for refunds. And since neither has happened in Cronin's case and she bought pairs of tickets, she's out nearly $1,000. She's thankful she's still employed.
CRONIN: I cannot even imagine what somebody would be going through right now if they had $1,000 in tickets just sitting there that they know they're not going to be able to use, and they're stressing about if they're going to be able to pay their rent this month or buy their kids food or, you know, anything like that.
LIMBONG: The live event economy is a complicated one, and it's been a struggle for ticket buyers to get their money back because they aren't Ticketmaster's primary concern, says Dean Budnick. He's the co-author of the book, "Ticket Masters: The Rise Of The Concert Industry And How The Public Got Scalped."
DEAN BUDNICK: Ticketmaster really, ultimately, is responsible to its venue clients, and those are the individuals that it wants to protect.
LIMBONG: In other words, it's primary business relationships are with concert promoters, stadiums and arenas. Before last week, Ticketmaster's website seemed to back off of refunds for postponed events entirely. The ensuing media coverage caught the attention of two members of Congress, Democratic representatives Katie Porter from California and Bill Pascrell from New Jersey, who wrote a scathing letter encouraging the ticket seller to reconsider. In a statement, Ticketmaster said, it's made $400 million worth of refunds so far, and its parent company Live Nation, along with rival AEG, announced new refund policies last week which still require a concert to be canceled or officially rescheduled with new dates to trigger a refund. Those policies don't go into effect until May 1. Dean Budnick says Live Nation and AEG simply don't have the money to give back.
BUDNICK: Because contractually, they released that money to the concert promoters, to the event producers who put on those events.
LIMBONG: Budnick says with smaller club-level shows, these funds are usually held in escrow, so they're easier to access. But for big shows at stadiums, ticket purchasers' money is already in the hands of venues and artists.
BUDNICK: Now you may say, well, gee, that is Ticketmaster's fault because that's their contract that they entered into.
LIMBONG: Budnick says over the past few decades, artists have gotten a larger share of ticket sales to make up for declining record sales. That's led to higher ticket prices and more service fees to be shared among the venues and promoters. Keith Jopling is a consulting director for MIDiA Research, a media analysis firm. He says that in a post-coronavirus world, the deals between all parties in the ecosystem are likely to change.
KEITH JOPLING: And everybody on that value chain will be expected to take a hit on that, including artists.
LIMBONG: But right now, it's out-of-work stagehands, food vendors, security guards and ticket holders who are feeling the pain. Crystal Reilly is a teacher from Michigan. She bought Red Wings hockey tickets as a gift for her dad. The game was set to take place last month, and she still can't get a refund.
CRYSTAL REILLY: I'm not working right now. I won't work until September, so having that extra 230 bucks would be really awesome.
LIMBONG: Some customers, like Reilly and Cachelle Cronin from earlier who's out 1,000 bucks, are part of a group exploring a class action suit. One such complaint is going through the courts now. Others have reached out to their credit card companies to try to get the money back, but either way, they'll be waiting for a while.
Andrew Limbong, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.