It turns out, one CAN get Ticketmaster to crack open its wallet and issue a refund after a bad customer service experience.
You just have to know a few board members personally is all.
Paula Liang works in the world of charitable giving in Florida, and as part of a Christmas gift, brought her entire family through to New York in March of 2016. She bought six tickets – for herself and her husband, for her son and daughter-in-law (travelling from Boston), and then for her two daughters who live in New York. Between the tickets – purchased on Ticketmaster’s resale site, prominently marketed as the only “verified” platform for ticket resale – and travel/hotel arrangements, she spent close to $10,000.
Upon arrival at the venue, there was a problem: Several of the tickets had been scanned in already. After a great deal of waiting around, her family was actually accommodated – in obstructed-view aisle seats.
Needless to say, she was not a satisfied customer.
Her calls to Ticketmaster customer service didn’t improve the experience. She was ignored, offered a $100 rebate rather than a refund (the reasoning: She had seen the show, albeit from folding chairs with obstructions), and essentially told to go away. “When I told [the customer service agent] it was outrageous and that I did not get the experience I paid way too much for, and asked to speak to the Director, she told me the Director ‘does not speak to the public,'” she said in her complaint lodged with the New York AG’s office. “I am not making this up.”
So, she did what very few consumers have the ability to do: She escalated the call right to the top of the chain.
In a letter dated April 20 of 2016, Liang outlined her experience at the musical and with the customer service department at Ticketmaster. She sent it to Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino, with copies going to New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Hamilton creator (and then star) Lin Manuel Miranda, and two gentlemen named Robert Ted Enloe, III and James D. Kahan. She did not have a personal connection with Mr. Miranda or Mr. Rapino. But she did with Enloe and Kahan. Both are members of Live Nation’s Board of Directors, Kahan since 2006 and Enloe since 2007.
“I was lucky my husband knew two board members, had their emails so I could send them copies [of her complaint letter,]” Liang says, granting that she didn’t “think my experience is typical” when dealing with customer service at any company, let alone Ticketmaster. “That got the attention of the CEO.
“I got a call from the boss of the woman who told me “I took my chances” buying resale tickets. He took the time to look through my account to see that I had bought thousands of dollars of tickets from them. I also explained what it was like ten minutes to curtain in a Broadway theater, because they kept asking me why the usher didn’t kick the women with the StubHub tickets out. The whole thing was pretty surreal.”
Miranda, who has strongly opposed ticket resale in public, did not reply to Mrs. Liang or TicketNews’ requests for comment. Despite their public stances, producers of the show have been said to participate in the secondary market to increase their own profit margins, as well as increasing the price of the show to nearly $1,000 for every prime seat in the house.
A well-placed industry source also confirmed for TicketNews that representatives of the Nederlander organization denied that there are ever any invalid or non-filled orders by the Nederlander venue or official partners. This was in reaction to a suggestion by former Democratic state senator Daniel Squadron that such issues be addressed with a 2-300% refund by the vendor in a in a meeting with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s staff to discuss future legislation regarding ticketing in the Empire State. Officials representing NY Attorney General Schneiderman’s office who know of and had documented cases of such invalid tickets being sold to consumers, did not choose to challenge the inaccurate statement at the time to Republicans and members of Cuomo’s staff.
Michael Rapino, CEO
9348 Civic Center Drive
Beverly Hills, California 90210
Dear Mr. Rapino:
I wanted to tell you about our recent experience using Ticketmaster. On Christmas Day, 2015, I purchased 6 tickets to the March 26. 2016 performance of Hamilton, in two separate transactions, on your website. The first transaction was for four “resale” tickets at $850 each plus taxes and fees in the first balcony Row V. The second transaction was also a “resale” transaction for two seats in Row W, also priced at $850. The total price for all six tickets was $4,637. Bringing my family to Hamilton was my Birthday and Christmas present from my husband. I proceeded to make airline reservations for my husband and I to fly to NYC from our home in Jacksonville, and hotel reservations for us and our son and daughter-in-law who would be driving down from Boston. We met our two daughters in NYC over a lovely dinner, and fortunately arrived at the Richard Rogers Theater with a few minutes to spare. All in, it was probably about a $10,000 adventure to New York City for our family of 6.
As the nice man at the theatre started to scan our tickets, he held up a hand and said “wait here.” He explained that several of our tickets had already been scanned in, and that “this happens all the time.” But not to worry, he said, because “Ticketmaster would refund our money.” “Really,” I replied, “will they refund my airfare and hotel?” At this point, they waved some of us through to a “fixer” inside the theater. The couple of family members outside saw several other parties turned away with similar issues. We explained our plight to the fixer, and he sent two of us to the two seats that hadn’t been pirated, me to the sole seat of the block of four that they concluded was empty, and the other three to separate folding chairs in aisles with obstructed views. It was very nice of them to do this, and the show was fabulous, but it was hardly the experience I paid a great deal for.
I sat next to a nice couple of women who gave me their tickets, which were exact copies, except for copier toner differences, of my tickets – they even said they were issued to me. These women said they bought them on Stubhub in March for about $800 apiece, and that all 4 were offered, but they only bought 2. They gave me their email address, and on further inquiry. I found out that Stubhub told them that they discovered the transaction was a fraud, but the email informing them of the fraud went to the purchaser’s spam folder.
I reached out to Ticketmaster customer “support” immediately, on Monday, March 28th, with very little result. Multiple calls later, I finally got a call back from Pam (304-357-6148) who initially told me I had been scammed by a notorious scalper and his brother, and that the tickets had been offered on another website as well. She promised me a refund within two days, then went radio silent. When I finally reached her on April 14, she told me her “Director” would only authorize a $100 gift card because we all got to see the show. When I told her it was outrageous and that I did not get the experience I paid way too much for, and asked to speak to the Director, she told me the Director “does not speak to the public.” I am not making this up. I declined the gift card because it does not begin to cover what I believe Ticketmaster owes me.
When I told Pam that I expected Ticketmaster to stand behind its product and pointed out the big blue box on the ticket that says it is a GUARANTEED VERIFIED ticket, she told me that I had “taken my chances” in purchasing a resale ticket. She also told me that Ticketmaster has no way of knowing who the original purchaser of the ticket is. The Attorney General of New York is investigating this practice because he is reasonably sure that either Ticketmaster or a related party is the original purchaser of these “resale” tickets in most instances. It simply defies logic to suggest that you have no idea of the origin of the tickets, stamp them with a bold “get in Guaranteed with Ticketmaster Verified Tickets” label, and then throw up your hands when there is fraud.
As with any marketplace (e.g. the NYCE, Ebay. etc.), the pool of participants is a function of the trust such participants have in the practices of the market. Since Ticketmaster offers tickets for resale, I believe it is incumbent on your organization to monitor transactions and participants for bad behavior. If a wrong has occurred, Ticketmaster should remediate the wrong and sanction or otherwise penalize the perpetrator. If you review the practices of any successful marketplace, that’s what they do. The fact that I have been defrauded, along with your customer support’s weak effort, has deeply shaken my faith in the Ticketmaster brand.
With a show as popular as Hamilton, it is unconscionable that Ticketmaster allows this fraud to be perpetrated every night. In this online world, Ticketmaster risks losing its status as a “trusted” vendor/marketplace. There are enough victims out there that it would not take much to organize them.
I believe you owe me a refund in the amount of $3,132, which is what I paid for the four tickets in Row V that were offered for sale on two other websites.
Finally, I also believe that a very much greater injustice is being done to the cast and crew of Hamilton. They sing and dance their hearts out every single night, and make heroic efforts to make tickets affordable to students and others, while a bunch of insiders and related parties sit back and allow scalping, ticket duplication and fraud, none of the outsize profits of which redound to the benefit of the artists. It is, frankly, obscene.
Sincerely, Paula Liang
CC: Robert Ted Enloe, III, via email
James D. Kahan, via email
The Hon. Eric Schneiderman, with attachments