Event ticketing companies are tying up live music fans' money during the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. As one-off shows and major tours are being postponed, rescheduled and canceled to help stop the spread of the virus, the refund politics of Ticketmaster, StubHub and others are proving ineffective for those looking to get their money back.

Ticketmaster recently changed the wording of its refund policy, Digital Music News points out, to only offer refunds for event cancellations; previously, the policy offered refunds for "postponed, rescheduled or canceled" events. A statement on Ticketmaster's website, published on March 12, lays out the company's full coronavirus-related policy.

"As always, canceled events are automatically refunded," Ticketmaster explains. "If an event organizer is offering refunds for postponed or rescheduled events, a refund link will appear on your Ticketmaster account. Otherwise, you are encouraged to periodically check back online to see if the status of their event has changed."

Fans with tickets to non-refundable postponed or rescheduled events who can no longer attend are being encouraged to "sell your tickets to other fans on our safe and simple Ticketmaster resale marketplace" — that is, to keep their tickets within Ticketmaster's ecosystem — as long as the ticket resale option is enabled for the event. "If refunds are not allowed for your event and you post through Ticketmaster.com, we will waive seller fees for fans that create(d) resale postings from March 17 through May 31," Ticketmaster's statement adds.

The general refund policy on Tickets.com's website, meanwhile, deflects any ire: "The venue or the event promoter determines policies relating to the cancellation of an event, not us," the company's FAQ explains. "When we issue a refund to you, we will refund the price that you paid for your ticket. Service fees, processing fees and any other fees, such as delivery fees, are not refundable."

"Policies regarding postponed events vary by venue," the FAQ continues. A COVID-19-specific statement focuses mostly on those working with the company to sell tickets, not the fans buying them, only at the end encouraging, "If you have questions with regard to any impacted event please contact the venue directly."

Fans who bought their tickets via a third party are even more out of luck in some cases. As StubHub explains in its coronavirus-related policies for both ticket sellers and ticket buyers on its website, if an event has been postponed, StubHub is "waiting for the event organizer to decide whether to cancel or reschedule ...

"You don’t need to contact us; we’ll email you when we know more," the policy reads; in the meantime, ticketholders are being asked to "[k]eep your current tickets, which may be valid for the new event date." Many of the affected events, however, do not yet have new dates, which means StubHub is keeping fans' money tied up in tickets for events that are completely up in the air.

Fans' options are not much better once an event is rescheduled or canceled, though: Fans who can no longer use their tickets for a rescheduled event are told that they can "resell your tickets on StubHub if you can’t go or don’t want to," while fans with tickets for canceled events are being offered credits of 120 percent of their original order, for use by Dec. 31, 2021. Both options keep the tickets and fans' money within StubHub's system, without any real "out" offered.

Other third-party sellers, such as VividSeats and SeatGeek, are, at least, offering a choice between an actual refund or an account credit for fans with tickets to canceled events. Those with tickets to postponed or rescheduled events who can no longer attend, however, are just as out of luck as if they bought elsewhere.

These coronavirus-related changes in refund policies reflect the financial troubles the live event industry is facing during this pandemic. On March 26, as the coronavirus pandemic was ramping up in the United States, StubHub furloughed two-thirds of its employees (450 people), and the company is now facing a class-action lawsuit over its altered refund policy. One expert suggests that ticket brokers are suffering “severe financial difficulties” (quote via Ultimate Classic Rock), and that the economic impact of the virus could destroy the third-party ticketing industry.

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