Friday would have been quite the celebration. Will Warren turned 40, and a party bus would have surprised him late in the afternoon, packed with a few dozen friends from the neighborhood and family members who had flown in from Illinois and Tennessee.
The bus would have headed to Dodger Stadium. It would have been time for Dodger baseball, and for Warren’s birthday bash, secretly arranged by his wife.
“She’s the one that usually gets all the big parties,” said Warren, who teaches middle school in Burbank. “She said, ‘I wanted to celebrate you for a change.’ ”
She let him in on the surprise a few weeks ago, once sports had shut down because of the coronavirus crisis. The Dodgers would not be playing the World Series champion Washington Nationals on Friday, and the Warrens proceeded to pursue a refund for more than $2,000 worth of tickets.
They’re still waiting.
The Dodgers and Angels are not automatically refunding tickets at this time, following the guidance of Major League Baseball. Neither is StubHub, the league’s official ticket resale partner.
The StubHub situation in particular has attracted the attention of a congressional committee already investigating the ticket industry. The House Energy and Commerce Committee in February summoned representatives from StubHub and five other ticketing companies to a hearing titled “In the Dark: Lack of Transparency in the Live Event Ticketing Industry.”
Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) said the committee now has asked ticket companies to provide refund policies for games and other events impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
“We strongly encourage each company to fully refund all consumers affected by canceled or postponed events,” Pallone said in a statement to The Times.
“Many Americans are currently facing economic hardship due to COVID-19, and consumers should not be stuck with company credits that they may have to wait many months to use, if they use them at all. Full refunds, including all ancillary fees, should be issued so fans can spend or save their money as they need during this time of national crisis.”
For now, even as it becomes increasingly unlikely that MLB can play a full season, the league lists unplayed games as postponed rather than canceled. On March 16, commissioner Rob Manfred cited a Centers for Disease Control recommendation in saying MLB would not begin play before May 9. On March 25, Manfred told ESPN, "We're probably not gonna be able to" complete a traditional 162-game schedule.
Warren said his wife first approached the Dodgers about a refund, but the team cited the league policy. As Warren was then told via email from MLB, the league plans on playing as many games as possible. MLB considers each postponement similar to a rainout, and the league advises fans to hold on to tickets and await the decision on a rescheduled date. The league and its players’ union are exploring an array of options, including playing rescheduled games well into October or playing the entire season solely in Arizona.
A league official, speaking on the condition he not be quoted, said teams have the flexibility to address particular cases of economic hardship.
“We still hope to have a season and are working with each fan to fit their needs,” Angels spokeswoman Marie Garvey said.
Dodgers spokesman Joe Jareck did not respond to requests for comment.
Shavonnah Schreiber, whose Houston-based SNR Creative advises athletes and teams in marketing and branding, said fans will remember how MLB — and their home teams — responded in a time of crisis. Nearly 17 million Americans have filed for unemployment in the past three weeks.
“People have lost jobs,” she said. “Even if they haven’t lost their jobs, maybe their hours have been reduced, or clients aren’t signing contracts, or work has been canceled or delayed. Revenue and cash flow is something everyone is thinking about right now.”
So is the league, Schreiber acknowledged. But, she said, a league with $11 billion in annual revenue ought to consider the goodwill that would come from refunding tickets immediately.
“Right now, if you have a large organization and you have any ability to absorb any amount, people are almost expecting that you do," she said, "because you are in a better position to absorb it than an individual household would be."
In normal times, StubHub issues a refund to the buyer of an event that was called off, then recoups the sale price from the seller. At this time, with more than 40,000 events called off in the U.S. and Canada, StubHub says it does not have enough cash to pay back all the buyers before getting money back from sellers.
“It is currently impossible for us to offer immediate cash refunds to all buyers,” StubHub spokeswoman Kate Brinks said.
Instead, StubHub offered a credit for 120% of the value of an order to another event, a policy initially announced for events through the end of the year, despite the company’s “Fan Protect Guarantee” that called for a cash refund of tickets to canceled events. StubHub was sued in Wisconsin last week over that unilateral and retroactive change to its terms of service.
Brinks said Thursday that the company would extend the credit offer for events through the end of 2021. She also confirmed that StubHub would abide by the law in any state, including California, that requires a refund for a canceled event to any customer who demands one.
At this point, no Dodgers or Angels game has been officially canceled.
Warren, the teacher whose Dodger Stadium birthday party was foiled by the coronavirus, said he hoped the league could strike a balance in its ticketing policy.
“You would think they would at least give us the option to be refunded,” he said. “I can understand their position too; they’re going to lose out on hundreds of millions of dollars if they have to refund all these tickets through the year. I feel bad for MLB too, but fans, hello?”
Warren said it leaves a “bad taste in his mouth” that a refund has been difficult for fans to obtain.
“I’m such a big baseball fan that it’s hard for me to hate,” he said. “I love the game so much. But I know there are people out there that must be really hurting for this money right now.”