May 7, 2020 - Sports

Sports leagues update refund policies after coronavirus leaves fans in ticket limbo

Empty stadium seats

Photo: G Fiume/Getty Images

With U.S. sports nearly two months into their indefinite hiatus, leagues have finally begun updating their ticket refund policies, directing teams to decide for themselves how they'd like to proceed.

Why it matters: This should give fans struggling financially amidst the pandemic a clearer path towards recouping cash in the short term.

  • By the numbers: With over $1 billion tied up in "postponed" NBA and NHL games alone, there's a lot more money in ticket limbo than you might realize.
"Getting a refund for an event that is postponed until who-knows-when may seem like small potatoes, but for a lot of people without their paycheck, that might be a cart of groceries or a bottle of prescription medicine."
Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.), via WSJ

The backdrop: Over the first month or so of lockdown, leagues instructed teams to treat missed games as standard postponements (i.e. exchange for credit on a future ticket, or keep the ticket and use it at the rescheduled event).

  • But when two fans from New York sued MLB on April 20 for un-refunded tickets, seeking class-action certification, the situation changed.

The state of play: About a week after that suit was filed, both MLB and MLS changed their policy to the aforementioned team-centered approach.

  • The L.A. Galaxy are fielding refund requests on a case-by-case basis "for games that have been affected but not canceled" or "from season-ticket holders whose financial situation has been adversely affected by the coronavirus."
  • The NFL — whose season isn't scheduled to begin until the fall, and thus has time on its side in a way MLB and MLS don't — released a memo yesterday outlining a universal refund policy that will be available for fans "if a game is cancelled or has to be played in an empty stadium."

The bottom line: As with everything else at the moment, the only thing certain about this updated refund policy is that, at some point, it's likely to change. But if it eases the pain of this crisis for even a few extra people, it's a good place to start.

  • And despite the 2020 NFL schedule being released tonight, the New York Jets said they won't be selling tickets to games for now. Don't be surprised if more teams do the same.

Go deeper: Sports leagues and ticket providers face criticism and lawsuits over ticket refunds

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