Consumers in New York are furious after local officials closed several venues to those who haven’t been vaccinated against COVID-19, an increasingly common choice amid the ongoing rise in cases throughout the U.S. But it’s far worse than just not being able to go to the games or shows – apparently those who can’t (or won’t) vaccinate may be stuck with tickets they can’t use, but also can’t get a refund on and can’t sell due to anti-resale mobile-only ticketing systems used by the primary ticketing vendor, Ticketmaster.
KeyBank Center in Buffalo is one of several venues that has recently announced changes to their entry policies – no longer will showing a recent negative test and wearing a mask be sufficient, only proof of vaccination. That’s a problem for some consumers, and not just those who are hesitant to vaccinate by choice.
“For concerts, I’m willing to do all kinds of things and I would totally be willing to get vaccinated but it’s not an option for me healthwise – my doctor will not sign off on it,” Leanne Powers of Hamburg, NY told Buffalo’s WKBW, who was excited to attend a November concert featuring Genesis at KeyBank before the vaccination requirement was changed. “They’re second row tickets. This is a bucket list item.”
Unfortunately for her, the $2,100 she paid for the tickets may be an unrecoverable loss, unless event organizers change their current policy.
Powers and others like her who have contacted Ticketmaster to ask about refunds due to the post-sale policy change got a form response:
Thanks for contacting us regarding refunding your ticket order.
Other options, if made available by the Event Organizer, such as the opportunity to post your ticket(s) for sale or transfer them to someone else, can be found in your Event Details.
Normally, the other option would be for the impacted consumer to list their tickets for resale to at least recoup their cost, but in at least some of these instances that just leads them to another dead end, as Ticketmaster has issued the tickets in its mobile-only “safetix” format, and event organizers have effectively locked the tickets into their accounts, with no option to list them for resale or even transfer them to a friend.
That doesn’t sit well with Powers. “I don’t care if it’s $21 or $2,100. I think it’s wrong that there’s no refund ability,” Powers said.
Generally, in New York, the law protects customers against the use of ticketing systems that are specifically designed to make transferring or reselling tickets harder for consumers – if not impossible. The state requires that consumers be offered tickets in a freely-transferrable format, which allows them to do what they wish with tickets once they have been purchased, without additional permission needed from the venue or event-organizer. That generally means a printed ticket or a printable PDF that can be easily sent on to someone else without needing to transfer to another users account within the Ticketmaster (or AXS, or any other ticketing vendor)’s system. But even in a state like New York with specific consumer ticketing rights protected by law, rights-holders are using COVID as an excuse to offer tickets exclusively in systems like Safetix, where the ability to shut off resale or transfer is the clear and specific intent.
“Transferability is the cornerstone of any pro-consumer ticketing policy that any legislature considers,” according to Sports Fans Coalition executive director Brian Hess, who spoke to TicketNews this week regarding bills being considered regarding consumer ticketing rights in Massachusetts. “Preserving that right is paramount to keeping a robust, fair marketplace that drives prices down, allows flexibility and allows fans to recoup costs – say if they get sick or have any reason they can’t get to a game. Transferability makes the experience.”
The existing ticketing rights law in New York was extended by one year earlier in the summer of 2021, after a push by Sen. James Skoufis to add a number of other beneficial consumer protections to those already present was shelved for the time being, with a promise it would be reconsidered again in the coming session.
Buffalo Bills fans are also impacted by the recent decisions regarding vaccination rules, with the team also removing the option to show a recent negative COVID test rather than proof of vaccination beginning October 31. Season ticket holders are able to request a pro-rated refund, but doing so will cause their ticket account to be cancelled, and they will lose any seniority they have built up for future season ticket purchases.
The push towards a full and safe reopening has given event organizers a fairly free hand in requiring vaccinations, but that could prove disastrous for consumers when that requirement is paired with a restrictive ticketing system – as these New Yorkers can attest.