StubHub President Sukhinder Singh Cassidy announced March 27 the company would no longer be offering unconditional refunds for canceled events and moving forward would only be providing a 12-month coupon worth 120% of the ticket’s original value.
This policy is a substantial pivot away from the previous policy described by Singh Cassidy on March 6 which introduced the coupon as an alternative option to full refunds.
StubHub later wrote on Twitter refunds would only be granted if “the buyer’s billing address or event is in one of 14 states with consumer laws around refund” – which according to FindLaw includes California, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, Utah, and Virginia. According to SeatGeek there are also regulations regarding refunds in Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, North Carolina and South Carolina.
A StubHub representative told Pollstar in a statement: “In normal times, we’ve made the decision to refund buyers before collecting money from the seller to offer buyers more convenience. And under normal circumstances, this works well, even with StubHub taking the risk of timing delays and some losses when we are unable to collect from the seller. With the coronavirus impacting 28,000+ events and the associated magnitude of challenge in recouping monies owed by sellers over the coming months, it is currently impossible for us to offer immediate cash refunds to all buyers.
“When the volume of cancellations accelerated a few weeks ago, we were the first in our industry to offer a coupon worth 120% of the ticket value. This will now be our default option in Canada and in the US. Outside of the US and Canada, fans are defaulted to a refund.”
According to Celebrity Access, StubHub furloughed 67% percent of its workforce March 24.
Prior to that, the $4.5 billion acquisition of StubHub by viagogo was held up in the U.K. by the Competition and Markets authority Feb. 10 and, at press time, had still not completed.
A representative for StubHub told Pollstar that due to the Competition and Markets Authority’s “hold separate” order, “StubHub is currently operating as an independent company — no longer under the support of eBay but not yet operated by viagogo.”
Reg Walker of The Iridium Consultancy recently told Pollstar he thinks StubHub and viagogo may be in deep trouble as regulators start to scrutinize their business and cash has stopped flowing. “All of the money for these transactions goes through either Viagogo or through StubHub. So, it’s not like a traditional marketplace.
“If you or I went to an outdoor market and you saw something on a stall, you’d give the vendor the money, he would give you the goods, and he would pay the market owner a commission or a flat fee to be in that market.
“That’s not what happens with Viagogo or StubHub. All of the money goes through either Viagogo or StubHub. So, they control it, they hold it in escrow. But they also make guarantees to both the seller and the purchaser. They are far more involved in these transactions than a simple information service provides, so I suspect they have no defence,”
StubHub was not the only marketplace to pivot towards coupons, as event discovery and primary ticketing platform Goldstar sent some ticketholders for a showing of “Hamilton” in San Francisco an email that they would be provided with site credit for their canceled tickets and gave no information about the possibility of refunds.
As far as the ticketing giant of North America, a Ticketmaster representative told Pollstar the company has not made any changes to its refund policy in light of COVID-19. Due to the high volume of refund requests, the company has set up a special portal that is frequently updated with information about canceled events and the availability of refunds.
TM’s still-standing policy is to refund all canceled events within 30 days, but postponed or delayed events (with no mention made in TM’s policy explanation as to how far in advance events can be delayed or rescheduled) may not offer refunds as an option.
The company wrote “given the unprecedented circumstances, event organizers are constantly assessing the situation and making determinations regarding refunds. If your event is not currently enabled for refunds, check back later, as this status may change.”
One broker told Pollstar that even if there is no official change in policy, Ticketmaster has almost always offered refunds as an option for shows that are either postponed or change venues and the possibility that these refunds may not be available for some events not only hurts brokers but regular fans who want back the money they spent on tickets.
One source posited that a reason Ticketmaster might not be able to offer as many refunds is that buildings will need to hold ticket revenue to maintain liquidity while the industry remains in stasis.
Both StubHub and Ticketmaster have said that if you cannot get refunds for a ticket, you can re-sell that ticket on the respective platform to get money for it, although that transaction presumably would incur normal fees.