U.S. Representatives Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) and Katie Porter (D-CA) wrote a scathing letter to Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino and Ticketmaster President Amy Howe criticizing the refund policy Ticketmaster has implemented during this pandemic. The duo have spoken out on the publicly-maligned policy change that notes refunds will only be granted for shows that have been cancelled outright rather than postponed. In a time full of economic uncertainty and a scarcity of live events, Pascrell and Porter pressed the merged companies to show compassion for Americans financially struggling.
“We write to you today incredulous at Ticketmaster’s announced policy to refuse refunds to all requesting fans for ticketed events postponed by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. With Americans weathering the brutal and continuing impacts of this global crisis, your decision to confiscate their money is reprehensible and should be reversed immediately,” reads the letter, dated April 17.
Ticketmaster quietly changed the policy to refuse postponement refunds in the midst of the pandemic and customers swiftly responded with fierce backlash. The company issued a statement over the outcry explaining that an “unprecedented volume” of impacted events and “continued uncertainty over setting new dates” requires more time from organizers mulling refunds.
Read the representatives’ press release and letter below.
Pascrell, Porter Blast Ticketmaster Refusal to Refund Fans for Pandemic Postponed Shows
PATERSON, NJ – U.S. Reps. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ-09) and Katie Porter (D-CA-45), a member of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, today hammered Ticketmaster for refusing to issue refunds to Americans for events that have been postponed indefinitely by the COVID-19 pandemic. In a letter to Ticketmaster President Amy Howe and Live Nation President Rapino, the two members call on Ticketmaster to better appreciate the continuing national emergency and issue full refunds to all customers who request them.
“We write to you today incredulous at Ticketmaster’s announced policy to refuse refunds to all requesting fans for ticketed events postponed by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. With Americans weathering the brutal and continuing impacts of this global crisis, your decision to confiscate their money is reprehensible and should be reversed immediately,” Reps. Pascrell and Porter write.
Congressman Pascrell has been a leader in Congress calling for regulation of the opaque live events ticket market. Pascrell was an early critic of the Live Nation-Ticketmaster merger, and repeatedly urged the Obama administration to reject it, warning that the union would crush competition and harm consumers. In May 2018, Pascrell wrote an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times on his attempts to impose greater positive regulation on the broken live events ticket market.
Two months later, Reps. Pascrell and now House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ-06) wrote a letter to Federal Trade Commission chairman Joseph Simons highlighting a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study which found a myriad of consumer protection and competition issues in the primary and secondary live event ticket markets. The GAO report was commissioned in response to Pallone and Pascrell’s work, and the members urged Simons to do more to protect consumers in the marketplace. In response, the FTC organized a workshop on event tickets held in June 2019 to review many of the challenges faced by ticket-buying fans.
Pascrell is the principal sponsor of the BOSS Act, overarching legislation that will impose a basic level of transparency upon the ticket industry so fans have a fair chance to purchase tickets on the primary market and also seeks to protect consumers who choose to use the secondary market to purchase tickets. The legislation is currently being considered by the Energy and Commerce Committee. A full section-by-section breakdown of the legislation is available here.
A copy of Reps. Pascrell and Porter’s letter is available here, the text of which is provided below.
April 17, 2020
Michael Rapino, President and CEO
9348 Civic Center Drive
Beverly Hills, CA
Amy Howe, President and COO
9348 Civic Center Drive
Beverly Hills, CA
Dear Mr. Rapino and Ms. Howe:
We write to you today incredulous at Ticketmaster’s announced policy to refuse refunds to all requesting fans for ticketed events postponed by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. With Americans weathering the brutal and continuing impacts of this global crisis, your decision to confiscate their money is reprehensible and should be reversed immediately.
As the United States is battling the worst outbreak of this virus in the world, the effect on regular Americans has been cataclysmic. Nearly 20 million working Americans have filed for unemployment, with those tragic numbers expected to climb.[i] Countless small businesses remain shuttered. Millennials find themselves in the second financial crash of their lives through no fault of their own.[ii]
Many of these suffering Americans are your customers. Their burden in the coming months is heavy. But instead of helping them lift that burden, your company has decided to make it heavier. Ticketmaster’s webpage announces at the top in bold red letters that “Refunds are available if your event is canceled,”[iii] which gives fans no avenue to get their money back for events that have been indefinitely postponed. Incredibly, a New York Times report found that this same Ticketmaster webpage used to read that refunds “are available if your event is postponed, rescheduled or canceled” and was quietly changed.[iv] In response, Ticketmaster has asserted that the change was made for “clarity,” and your company then deflected responsibility to event organizers.[v]
Your claim that Ticketmaster’s refund policy was not changed but clarified is so absurd it insults the intelligence of your customers. Furthermore, given your enormous power over the marketplace, your company’s assertions that this inability to obtain a full refund for postponed events shows rings hollower than a drum. In effect, your company is holding hostage money that could constitute a rent check, electric bill, or groceries to feed children.
There is no question that this crisis is badly hurting members of the live events community, from promising artists, to striving promoters, small venue owners, set designers, concessionaires, and others. But given your market power, your responsibility to customers is broad. We request answers to the below questions:
- Please explain in detail when the language in Ticketmaster’s COVID-19 refunding policy was altered.
- To date, please detail the total number of tickets that were purchased for events now postponed, the total number of ticket purchasers that have requested refunds, and the total number that has been denied by Ticketmaster.
- Please provide the total value of the denied refunds.
- Please specify each event organizer Ticketmaster has contacted regarding refunds. Please outline the request Ticketmaster has made and the organizer’s response.
- Has Ticketmaster sought or will Ticketmaster seek any federal economic assistance in light of the COVID-19 pandemic?
At the time of the Department of Justice’s disastrous decision to allow Live Nation and Ticketmaster to merge in 2010, Mr. Rapino called the event “a good and exciting day for the music business” that would “transform the way artists distribute their content and fans can access that content.”[vi] Do you both believe that your refusal to issue refunds to Americans suffering during a pandemic in the exciting spirit of helping fans access your content?
Given this national emergency, we call on your company to show consideration to its customers and issue full refunds to all who request them.
[i] See https://www.politico.com/news/2020/04/09/coronavirus-unemployment-claims-numbers-176794
[ii] See https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/04/millennials-are-new-lost-generation/609832/
[iii] https://help.ticketmaster.com/s/article/How-do-I-get-a-refund?language=en_US. The link reads that as of 12:54pm on April 15, 2020, in case it is changed again.
[vi] https://consequenceofsound.net/2010/01/merger-approved-say-hello-to-live-nation-tickemaster/; https://www.wired.com/2010/01/doj-approves-modified-ticketmaster-live-nation-merger/