Ticket refunds: What to expect

AP Photo/Elise Amendola

With 259 NBA games, 189 NHL games and the start of the MLB season postponed, all of March Madness, multiple golf and tennis events canceled, and hundreds of other events now on hold, fans are holding hundreds of thousands of potentially unusable tickets.

ESPN asked the ticket industry's biggest companies what fans can expect.

I'm holding tickets to a game that has been canceled due to the coronavirus outbreak. Can I get my money back?

It all depends on how you bought your ticket. If it's a fully canceled event and you used a credit card to buy directly from a team box office or the website of a team's official ticket seller (like Ticketmaster on behalf of the NHL and NBA), you are supposed to get a refund. "It's Ticketmaster's standing policy to automatically refund the full cost of the ticket and fees to the original purchaser's credit card," according to the company's website. But the company warns the refund procedure may take as long as 30 days.

You should also get your money back if you bought your tickets from one of the popular online ticket reselling marketplaces. StubHub recently announced that customers holding tickets to canceled events can choose to "receive a coupon worth 120% of their original order to use on a future order." The other option is to receive a full refund of an original order to the original payment method. In other words, if you used a credit card, StubHub will refund the money back onto your credit card. Vivid Seats has also promised a full refund or a 120% credit for future use.

The international ticketing site viagogo is offering a full refund or a 125% voucher that can be used within the next year.

If you bought your tickets from a ticket broker, you should also expect a refund. According to Gary Adler, the executive director and general counsel for the National Association of Ticket Brokers, "Our Members agree to a Code of Ethics which provides that if an event is canceled, the Member will follow the refund policy of the original seller. This refund may be monetary, a store credit, or a mutually agreed upon ticket exchange." Or in other words, the broker should be following the policy set by the box office, team or original ticket issuer (such as Ticketmaster).

I have tickets for a "postponed" or rescheduled game. What can I expect?

Things are a bit more unsettled for folks who have tickets in this category. Because these events have not actually been canceled, refunds are not currently an option.

According to Vivid Seats, for example, if a customer's event has been postponed, the purchase will likely be valid for the new date, "though every event may be different." In other words, nothing is certain at this time. StubHub also does not offer refunds for rescheduled events, even if the new date no longer works for you. If that's the case, StubHub suggests you resell your ticket -- on StubHub -- which will normally take a piece of the action as part of its reseller fees. Ticketmaster offers the same advice but encourages customers to use its "safe and simple Ticketmaster resale marketplace," which also normally charges a fee to resell. Viagogo explicitly promises to "not charge any fees for relisting tickets that you have originally purchased from us."

I had great seats to the Final Four that I bought directly from the NCAA. What about me?

According to the NCAA, if you bought tickets from an official NCAA vendor either online or over the phone, you are in luck. The NCAA's ticket helpline states, "The NCAA will process refunds for tickets purchased through the NCAA. No additional action is needed. Your refund will be automatically delivered to the same card used for purchase. Refunds should be received within 30 business days." Fees will be refunded unless a special request that was requested and granted was applied. According to the NCAA website, official vendors include ncaa.com/mbbtickets, PRIMESPORT, NCAA Ticket Exchange, host colleges and athletic conferences, and the ticket offices of schools participating in the championships. If you bought your tickets on a reselling marketplace like StubHub or Vivid Seats, those companies' rules apply.

I'm worried about fewer ticket-buying options in the future if smaller operations struggle to make ends meet due to all of these changes and costs related to the coronavirus crisis.

The National Association of Ticket Brokers' Gary Adler paints a very worrisome picture. "The number of canceled events, including some of the biggest that exist, has made it extremely difficult for those in ticketing (and live events in general) to stay afloat." Adler is hoping that the government puts ticketing brokers in the same category as airlines and hotels when it comes to potential federal financial assistance for the hospitality and entertainment industries. "Right now, the ticketing industry is essentially at a complete halt with no end in sight. Since right now, not more than 10 people can congregate, the reinstatement of social gatherings of 10-, 20- 40-thousand people is likely a long way away, as is any income for the people working in this sector and providing this valuable service to consumers."