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Pascrell & Porter: Ticketmaster Needs to Do More to Refund Fans

Paterson, NJ, May 13, 2020

U.S. Reps. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ-09) and Katie Porter (D-CA-45) today published an article in Billboard reiterating their calls for Ticketmaster to offer refunds to customers who purchased tickets for events postponed due to COVID-19. After Ticketmaster had refused to issue refunds to many customers, on April 16 Pascrell and Porter demanded Ticketmaster change its policy, which the company then did just days later.

Pascrell’s and Porter’s op-ed can be viewed online here, the text of which follows below.

Ticketmaster Needs to Do More to Refund Fans

By Reps. Bill Pascrell, Jr. and Katie Porter

The coronavirus pandemic has indefinitely postponed nearly all concerts, sports games, and large group gatherings. Thousands of Americans who purchased tickets for these events are now in a financial limbo: unable to attend and simultaneously unable to secure a refund because of anti-consumer policies at the country’s largest ticket sales company: Ticketmaster.

The consequences of coronavirus are widespread, causing unbearable economic hardships. At least 26 million working Americans have filed for unemployment assistance, small businesses are shuttered, and lines at food banks evoke images of black-and-white, Depression-era breadlines. This national emergency demands an all-hands-on-deck response – and not only from elected officials.

Congress has moved swiftly to provide checks directly to families and small businesses to help them stay afloat, but we know that these programs are not enough. The coming months will present brutal financial decisions for many Americans.

Faced with these dire choices, millions of Americans were puzzled by the refusal of Ticketmaster to offer refunds. A New York Times investigation showed that as the pandemic forced strong public health guidelines, Ticketmaster stealthily altered the refund policy on its webpage, removing a guarantee that fans could receive a refund for any postponed events.

When we learned of this policy change, we wrote to executives from Ticketmaster, and its parent company, Live Nation, and demanded an explanation. We called on them to stop refusing refunds and to revert to their longstanding policy. Ticketmaster’s characterized the changes to its refund policy as merely providing “clarity” and also pointed the finger at others, saying that its failure to give consumers their money back was the fault of individual event organizers.

Given the company’s unchallenged power over the live events market, these claims insulted Americans’ intelligence – and we told Ticketmaster executives just that.

The former CEO of Ticketmaster’s parent Live Nation, Irving Azoff, is one of the most influential figures in entertainment. He scoffed at our objections to the bad behavior by the behemoth that he helped create, labeling complaints about refunds as shameful.

A decade ago, Ticketmaster, the nation’s largest live events ticket seller, was allowed to merge with Live Nation, the nation’s largest events promoter. Despite promises that the merger would be good for consumers, the exact opposite has come true. Ticketmaster-Live Nation has squeezed customers for endless fees, stifled the marketplace, and crushed competition. Ticketmaster’s refusal to issue full refunds during a pandemic fits within a broader pattern of abuse befitting of a monopoly that believes itself above scrutiny.

Encountering a tidal wave of populist anger from customers on social media, the ticketing giant finally moved to reason. On April 17, Ticketmaster created a 30-day window for customers to receive refunds beginning May 1. Still facing backlash, this past week the window was extended to 60 days.

Ticketmaster’s policy reversal is a welcome start. But the company can and should go further to ensure that every single person is properly notified and able to receive a refund.

We ask that Ticketmaster proactively contact consumers about refunds, using the personal data it collects for consumer accounts’ such as cell phone numbers and emails to reach people. With rapidly changing circumstances, consumers are overwhelmed right now. That’s why Congress acted to extend the tax filing deadline, and many retailers have extended the period for returns. Ticketmaster should give purchasers until one week before the scheduled event date to request a refund.

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.

Pascrell is the longtime principal sponsor of the BOSS Act, overarching legislation that will impose a basic level of transparency to 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 was the subject of House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee hearing earlier this year and is now being considered by the full House. A full section-by-section of the legislation is available here.

 

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