When the NHL suspended the 2019-20 season on March 12, they didn’t know when its teams would be able to resume play. Now, more than six weeks later, they still have no idea. The longer this uncertainty remains, the more damage the league is doing to their most important fans: the ticket holders. As long as the schedule is “suspended” tickets are not going to be refunded, an issue that is amplifying concerns for many during this time of economic uncertainty. With the economy in a deep recession and unemployment at astronomical levels, having money tied up in tickets for hockey games is the last thing people should be worrying about.
This isn’t something that is exclusive to the NHL. Ticket holders for the NBA and MLB are in the same boat. By postponing games indefinitely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, teams from the major sports leagues are essentially keeping the money of customers who bought tickets to those games. Instead of refunding the money, the leagues are operating under their normal ticket policies for postponed or suspended, which means they’re holding the money as credit to be used whenever their games resume.
According to USA Today, more than $1 Billion is tied up in tickets to games that are stuck in limbo because of the pandemic.
The NHL has given very little guidance when it comes to previously sold tickets. In the FAQ section of their website, the league gives the following statement: “The season has been paused and currently no games have been cancelled. Tickets for any postponed games will be valid for the rescheduled date.”
While the league hasn’t been helpful, Ticketmaster is proceeding with a sweeping “wait and see” policy for both concerts and sporting events. The most relevant part comes in the end paragraph:
“As always, canceled events are automatically refunded. 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.”
These policies are frivolous right now and need to be amended. While leagues are trying desperately to figure out a way to play games this summer, the pre-sold tickets will still be irrelevant. Even if we see the Avalanche or Nuggets again this season, they won’t be playing in front of fans at Pepsi Center. The previously sold tickets would be irrelevant. Concerts could be rescheduled for fans. These games will not. They are effectively “cancelled” in every way other than on the websites of Ticketmaster, StubHub, etc.
There are financial worries for the teams and ticket outlets as well. Ticketmaster and StubHub stand to lose a lot of money when the tickets are eventually refunded, and in a time when cash flow is of the essence, they need to worry about their own economic realities. But that is of little solace to the fans who need the money back.
A long as the games are listed as “suspended” on the schedule, ticket holders — both season and single game — are unable to get a refund on the games they are missing. In a time when so many families going through serious financial hardship, refunding tickets could go a long way to help.
Even if the NHL finds a way to come back this summer — something that is going to be a lot harder than people like Bill Daly are letting on — they will be doing so without spectators. The tickets that have already been sold are eventually going to be refunded, but by dragging their feet, the NHL is putting an unnecessary delay on the financial reimbursement that could help a lot of people.
For the most part, teams are putting the onus on Ticketmaster. The teams don’t technically own the tickets and they can’t control the schedule so they are more than willing to pass the blame. Some teams — the Vancouver Canucks and Chicago Blackhawks among them — have told ticket holders that they can call their office to work on a partial refund in “extenuating circumstances.” This could be an option for some fans but it makes things a lot more difficult than need to be.
The fact of the matter is that these games aren’t going to be played in a way that can honor the tickets that have been sold. By maintaining the status of “suspended,” the NHL and other leagues are doing nothing but creating an extra headache for some of their most loyal fans in a very difficult time. With the economy taking a nosedive, the needs of consumers and the financial wherewithal of most households has changes significantly since the tickets were purchased. While some are in a position to wait it out, the indefinite timeline is a very difficult issue for many.
No matter how hard they’re trying to come back later this summer, the NHL needs to cancel the remainder of the currently scheduled 2020 games for the sake of their fans.