Despite promise of
refunds, don’t count on recouping.
By Fred Mills
That dripping sound you hear? It’s the sound of sweat,
descending from the chin of concert promoter AEG Live, contemplating a
potential loss of $40 million if the stars don’t align in the wake of Michael
Jackson’s unexpected death.
$40 mil is an estimate, as reported the other day at
Billboard.biz, of the combined cost of what AEG paid out to Jackson in his
advance ($10 million) plus production costs incurred thus far on what would
have been a 50-show run by Jackson at London’s O2 Arena. The ultimate tally
will hinge on how much nonappearance insurance will get coughed up, and while
at this point the cause of Jackson’s death is being attributed to cardiac
arrest, the Billboard report points out, citing an unnamed entertainment
insurance industry insider, “if Jackson died from a drug overdose or a
pre-existing condition, the producer could be on the hook for any loss – which
would include any money already sunk into the production, as well as the
considerable cost of refunding consumers for the 750,000 tickets already
purchased. If Jackson signed a contract saying
he would return his advance in the event he didn’t perform, the company could
end up in court with a long line of other Jackson
Ah. Those consumers who bought tickets. Let’s shed a few
quick crocodile tears for AEG, then turn our attention to Joe Q. Jacko Fan, who
along with his other 749,00 compatriots, sunk somewhere in the range of $90
million for tix – estimates by Billboard indicate that “premium and VIP
packages and secondary market sales would have boosted the gross to more than
Read the Billboard report first, then surf over to one
published this morning by Britain’s
Telegraph. Over the weekend a
spokesman for AEG confirmed that as they are legally bound to give refunds, “full
ticket refund information and procedures will be released early next week for
all Michael Jackson This Is It shows.” eBay made a similar statement. All ticketholders are being advised
to hold on to their ticket vouchers or proof of purchase slips (sensible in any
situation) as they will be required to submit documentation of their purchase
in order to get a refund.
Secondary ticket sellers, however, were a bit less
forthcoming – to the point of being deliberately vague – regarding their plans
for refunds. Over the years, reports on people attempting to get refunds
following a secondary market purchase haven’t been too encouraging, to say the
least. While the term “ticket reseller” has for some reason taken on a veneer
of respectability of late, let’s call those resellers what they are – scalpers,
and the general policy of scalpers is to take the money and run.
One expert subsequently warned fans that if they encounter
any problems obtaining refunds they most likely would have to contact their
credit card companies. As anyone who’s ever had to file a disputed credit card
charge claim knows, the procedure can be a royal pain in the ass, one that can
drag on for months, and in some instances the red tape still winds up leaving
you holding the bag. Caveat emptor.
Meanwhile, as all this is going on, nobody has raised the
issue of ticketing fees and service charges. Cast your memory back to this past
February when the Langerado Festival, set for March 6-8, was cancelled due to
sluggish ticket sales. Refunds were offered – “minus the included order processing fees,” as a notation in the
official cancellation notice on the Langerado website indicated. Depending on
the event and the promoter, those fees – which you rarely find out the total until
the final step of the check-out process when ordering tickets – can sometimes
add up to as much as 10% of the face value.
My prediction: AEG will pull a similar stunt, issuing
refunds for the full face value but not for any fees that accrued with the
original transaction. (No doubt they can do it legally as well, with the info
having appeared somewhere in the fine print of that transaction.) Let’s say the
fees were as low as ten dollars: do the math – 750,000 tickets times $10 equals
$7,500,000. Well, it’s not quite $40 mil, but it’ll still help AEG just a tad.
And you, gentle consumer, get screwed by the big guys once again.
Well, that’s my prediction at least. My advice? Sell your
unused tickets on eBay, of course! As everyone knows, pristine tickets from
Elvis Presley concerts that got cancelled in the wake of his death are
considered big collector’s items. Industry watchers are already predicting a
similar scenario for Jackson,
and that a lot of fans will also hang on to their tix for sentimental reasons. It
will all hinge on how many physical tickets were actually issued, of course; reportedly,
the actual artifacts hadn’t yet been mailed for many of those 50 shows. So who
knows exactly how many tickets are out there right now in the hands of punters,
and ultimately how many will wind up in the “collector’s item” category?
This hasn’t stopped an enterprising soul for listing on eBay
what has to be one of the most esoteric Jackson
collectibles ever: an official Ticketmaster email confirming cancellation of a Jackson London show. A Montreal-based
seller has it listed as Buy It Now for a whopping $1.00 (“more than 10
available,” har har har) with the listing reading thusly:
“Up for grabs: email sent by
Ticketmaster confirming the cancellation of the Michael Jackson show at
the O2 in London.
This is a collector’s item. It explains show was cancelled with a sympathy
message and what to do to get full refund for tickets. This
item will be emailed to you as soon as payment is received.”
Hey, don’t you just love the free enterprise system? Oh, and by the way:
how many of you out there have already booked air fare to London? Checked the cost of cancelling or
changing an international flight any time lately, hmmm?
CNN is reporting this morning that AEG
will be offering fans the choice between a refund or a “souvenir
commemorative ticket” featuring one of eight holographic designs. With
original prices starting at $105… wow, we’re not even gonna go there.
That ticking sound you hear? It’s the sound of AEG’s accountants
feverishly tapping away on their calculators, hoping that the “chump
factor” will kick in heavily among the Jackson fan base. If that
happens, you can also kiss goodbye any heavy eBay profits you might
have been calculatiing in your own mind.