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Death by Refund: Could the cure be worse than the cause?

“There will inevitably be severe financial implications as a result of this cancellation – not just for us, but also the Festival’s charity partners, suppliers, traders, local landowners and our community”. If even Glastonbury, one of the world’s largest and most prestigious music festivals, is talking of tough times ahead, then spare a thought for the little guy.

Covid-19 has ravaged the global events industry. Almost every major event has been cancelled or postponed, including the likes of Coachella and Burning Man in the US; This is Tomorrow and Download in the UK; Tomorrowland in Belgium; Primavera Sound in Spain. The list goes on and on.

For the last few weeks the airwaves have been filled with vitriolic contempt for “greedy” ticket companies “taking advantage” of people during a time of crisis. “It’s bad enough having your event cancelled”, they would say, “but then to have your refund cancelled as well!” These outlets are holding billions of pounds in consumer’s cash, that people desperately need right now for everyday essentials.

Fans’ anger is further stoked by the idea that the likes of StubHub changed their policies mid-way through the crisis. Ticketmaster, for instance, originally promised refunds would be “available if your event is postponed, rescheduled or cancelled”, before changing their website in mid-March to say they “are available if your event is cancelled”. Let’s face it, ticketing outlets are not looking good right now.

But for the companies involved in the industry, this issue goes far beyond optics.

StubHub, a secondary marketplace for live events, sells around $5bn worth of tickets each year, and has to pay the resellers that are supplying its stock. According to Pollstar, a trade publication covering the tour business, the top 200 events that have been cancelled this year were expected to generate $12bn in ticket sales globally. When this is all said and done, the live events industry could potentially be staring down losses of up to $9bn.

According to the Association of Independent Festivals (AIF), event organisers are hoping people elect to rollover, rather than refund their tickets. The body, which represents over 60 events in the UK, say many of its smaller members fear going under. “If they refund on mass, they might not be able to return next year, says Paul Reed, AIF’s chief executive.

In Spain the government has acknowledged this issue and has stepped in to help. Dice, another live event ticketing platform, confirmed that “emergency regulations have been introduced in Spain to help promoters through this crisis”, as the government suspended the need for festivals to process refunds.

Live events will be key in returning any semblance of normality. Mat Schultz, the artistic director of Unsound, an experimental arts festival in Krakow, believes there will be a “craving for live music after this”. He points to the “experience of collectively listening or dancing together”, a long overdue catharsis that will signal, “we’re out the other side”.

Of course, it is simply not viable for some to keep hold of their tickets for another year, especially during an unprecedented time like this. But if you are in a position to do so, perhaps pause for a second before requesting that refund. I’m sure every event organiser around the world would happily echo the words of Michael and Emily Eavis, Glastonbury’s co-founders, who managed to capture the current sentiments of an entire industry in just three sentences. “Again, we’re so sorry that this decision has been made. It was not through choice. But we look forward to welcoming you back to these fields next year and until then, we send our love and support to you all”.

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