Alexander: Bought tickets? No games? No communication?


Larry Martinez bought tickets in February for opening day at Dodger Stadium, through StubHub.

“Paid about $200, a little over (that) after fees,” he said in a phone conversation this week.

“They have this program where, if it’s eventually canceled, they’re going to offer you 120 percent value of the ticket. In other words, you pay $200 and you got another 20 percent on it.”

But here’s the catch. For Martinez, and thousands of others like him who have bought tickets to MLB, NBA and NHL games affected by the novel coronavirus pandemic, no games have actually been canceled. They’ve been postponed, no different than rainouts. And as the games are in limbo, so are ticket buyers’ dollars.

Technically there’s not a bad guy in this, although the corporations and rich individuals who own sports franchises and their ticket-selling partners would seem to be good candidates. The next few months remain uncertain, but each day that goes by increases the probability that games won’t be made up. If leagues are forced into playing without fans, or moving games to other cities, that means even more tickets bought in vain.

For individuals and families struggling financially because of business closures or layoffs or furloughs, those dollars are even more precious. They need that money now, and dissatisfaction with the response from teams and their employees has added to the frustration.

The first shot in this struggle between organizations and customers was fired this week in the U.S. District Court, Central District of California. Matthew Azjenman and Susan Terry-Bazer filed a consumer class action lawsuit, naming Major League Baseball, all of its member teams, and ticketing partners Ticketmaster and StubHub.

“Baseball fans have been held in limbo as a result of an MLB directive not to issue refunds – despite near impossibility to play a 162-game season with spectators – in an unprecedented time of economic hardship,” read the court filing submitted Monday.

The specific impetus for this suit? Azjenman and Terry-Bazer, both New York residents, have a lot of those dollars in limbo. Azjenman spent approximately $1,730 on a Mets 20-game season ticket plan, according to the filing; the first payment to the Mets, on a payment plan, was $317, made in 2019. Terry-Bazer  purchased six tickets through Ticketmaster for a Yankees-Red Sox game scheduled to be played May 9 at Yankee Stadium, spending “over $926.00.” She sought a refund in March, according to the suit, and was told “no such refund could be offered.”

There will likely be plenty of individual ticket-buyers hopping aboard this train, and the chances are good that the momentum will extend to NBA and NHL fans who find themselves waiting for refunds.

In this March 26, 2020 file photo, Daniel Clemens looks into the empty ballpark at Progressive Field in Cleveland. Clemens, a season ticket holder, had tickets for the opening day baseball game between the Cleveland Indians and the Detroit Tigers. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak, File)

Martinez, who lives in Apple Valley, reasons that if the Opening Day originally scheduled March 26 against the Giants instead takes place in August against, say, the Diamondbacks, those tickets would and should be less on the secondary market if he tried to re-sell them.

Additionally, he said he dealt directly with the Dodgers to buy a pair of the new “Home Run Seats” in front of the pavilions and just over the outfield fences, for a May game as his wife’s birthday present. The total, he said, was around $3,000, but he put up $800 as a down payment with the idea that the balance would be due 30 days before the game date.

When the season was put on hold, he said, the Dodgers ticket representative with whom he was dealing gave him her cell phone number and told him to call if he had any questions.

“Once we found out the delay was gonna go into May, I texted her and said, ‘We still want to go … we’d still like to keep that opportunity open,’ ” he said. “No response. Never got a response.”

If you’ve shelled out big bucks for tickets and aren’t getting (a) a refund or (b) any information at all … well, I’d be upset, too.

Ricky Chu, who runs Chu’s Packaging Supplies in Santa Fe Springs, has had Clippers season tickets for nearly three decades. Not only are the team’s nine unplayed home dates for this season in jeopardy – and we’re not even talking playoffs yet – but season ticket renewals went out in February. Chu, rather than opt for a payment plan and pay a service fee with each payment, paid it all up front, around $40,000 for four seats.

The 2020-21 season is still far enough in the distance that we don’t know the severity of the threat. But those nine remaining games this season? Still in limbo.

“I think every team is like, ‘well, if they play, then they’ll just make those tickets valid for the games that they play,” Chu said. “But it makes it tough for us, because we share tickets with some people. Because the schedule is all jumbled up, if (it’s canceled) then we’ve got to give people money back, but we don’t know when we’ll get our money back.”

Ira Waldman, who has had Clippers season tickets since 1995, said that he received an email April 2 from Gillian Zucker, the team’s president of business operations, promising “communication, outreach and flexibility” and saying the club would defer April season ticket payments if notified by the 10th of the month, five days before it was due.

“So they are sensitive,” he wrote. “But nothing since and maybe they are handcuffed waiting for a decision on the rest of the season. But given my age (68), I’m not even sure that if they open Staples Center up for the public before there is a vaccine … I would want to go. So I have no idea if they would be considering offering refunds if someone feels that way.”

The potential hesitancy of fans to come back to stadiums and arenas should be what teams and their ticketing partners are thinking about, long and hard. Four different surveys in the past couple of weeks – conducted by Seton Hall University, Morning Consult, the Harris Poll and Scout 360 Horizon Media – have suggested that fans won’t return for a while, or until there’s a vaccine, or maybe at all.

We get it. Nobody can make definitive commitments yet on whether games will be played. But given those surveys, you think a little more customer outreach might be in order?

@Jim_Alexander on Twitter

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