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Lawmakers in Canada, U.S. call for probes of Live Nation/Ticketmaster's 'outrageous' refund policy

There are now calls from politicians in both Canada and the U.S. for investigations into global entertainment giant Live Nation over its refusal to immediately refund all ticket-holders for thousands of concerts and live events disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Company says it’s trying to reschedule events, but many fans want their money back now

The COVID-19 pandemic has left the world’s largest entertainment company scrambling to deal with angry fans who want their money back for events that have been postponed indefinitely. (Christopher Polk/Getty Images)

There are now calls from politicians in both Canada and the U.S. for investigations into global entertainment giant Live Nation over its refusal to immediately refund all ticket-holders for thousands of concerts and live events disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Live Nation, which owns Ticketmaster, is refunding any show that's been officially cancelled. It also promises to offer refunds for tickets if, and when, an event that is currently postponed is rescheduled.

However, roughly 90 per cent of events are listed as postponed with no new dates, and until their status changes, Live Nation is keeping concertgoers' money.

That has many fans and now some lawmakers crying foul as many people struggle with layoffs and other financial troubles caused by the pandemic, which still has no end in sight.

"Make no mistake, this is just fundamentally wrong," said James Skoufis, a Democrat in New York state's senate. "And to do this during a pandemic, with the catastrophe that, especially here in New York is happening everywhere in my district ... it is just beyond the pale.

"I've asked the attorney general [of New York] to look at whether this rises to criminality, or if not, at least to civil penalties."

WATCH | New York state senator calls for investigation into Ticketmaster: 

James Skoufis, a New York state senator, says Ticketmaster's refund policy during the pandemic should be investigated. 6:02

Skoufis leads a senate committee that is already examining the live event and ticketing industries, including Live Nation's dominance as manager of hundreds of venues and artists, and the impact of its 2010 merger with Ticketmaster, which made it the biggest entertainment conglomerate in the world.

'I think it's despicable'

Ticketmaster took to Twitter late Friday to try to soothe angry fans, laying out a plan to try to reschedule thousands of events and eventually offer potential refunds.

"Let me reiterate: neither our clients, nor Ticketmaster, intend to withhold refunds on postponed shows," reads the statement from Ticketmaster president Jared Smith.

"Promoters are actively working through scheduling options, which is an incredibly complex task at present given the diminished line of sight into the future as well as the uncertainty around when large gatherings may resume."

Fans have been taking to social media in recent weeks to slag the entertainment company, and in some cases, threaten legal action if there aren't immediate refunds.

"I think it's despicable of a company right now, a large company like that, where many companies are stepping up right now to help out Canadians across the board," said Rob Nesbitt of Windsor Ont., who told CBC he has been consulting with class-action lawyers. 

Nesbitt said he has about $1,600 tied up in tickets for five shows, including a March 24 Pearl Jam concert that was called off but remains listed as postponed on Ticketmaster's website.

Rob Nesbitt of Windsor, Ont., currently has about $1,600 worth of tickets for five shows with no dates. He wants his money back. (Submitted by Rob Nesbitt)

While new dates have been set for some shows, the vast majority remain in limbo, and the company, which made $11 billion US in concert and ticketing revenue last year, won't provide a refund.

"This is outrageous, outrageous. But it's what people do when they become monopolies," said Rep. Bill Pascrell of New Jersey.

The Democratic member of Congress said the U.S. Justice Department needs to expand its probe into Live Nation's market dominance.

"State governments have to step in here," said Pascrell, who accused Live Nation of taking advantage of cash-strapped fans. "During a time of emergency, people think they can get away with anything anyway." 

Call for a Canadian probe

In Canada, Brian Masse, the NDP member of Parliament for Windsor West and the party's industry critic, is calling on the Competition Bureau as well as Industry Minister Navdeep Bains to launch investigations.

Watch NDP MP Brian Masse explains how the government should protect Canadian consumers:

Canada's industry minister needs to step in on ticket refunds, says NDP MP Brian Masse. 2:13

He points out that the Competition Bureau has failed in the past to investigate the company over its practice of helping scalpers to resell tickets

"We need to drop the gloves this time to protect consumers," he said.

"It really warrants a full investigation as to whether our laws are sufficient or not."

Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner, who represents Calgary Nose Hill, said it's clear consumers need protection.

As her party's critic for industry and economic development, Rempel Garner says her office has been inundated by calls from constituents upset over the ticket refund issue.

Watch Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner on the need to reboot the economy: 

Canada needs an economic reboot plan, says Conservative industry critic Michelle Rempel Garner. 1:38

But she cautions that many industries are cash-strapped and seeking refunds or bailouts because of the COVID-19 crisis, and until there's a more comprehensive plan to restart the economy, perhaps it's not the time to order immediate refunds for all concert tickets.

"I don't want to sound like I'm arguing for or against, you know, either consumers or a corporation. I'm just saying that there's a broader economic problem here that we have to be seized with, because you and I could have this conversation in so many different aspects."

After being contacted for comment on the allegations from fans and lawmakers in this story, Live Nation provided CBC News with the following statement: 

"We are working with artists and venues as quickly as we can. For Live Nation shows, a refund window will be available when they are rescheduled. If they cannot confirm new dates, they will be cancelled and be refunded."

For tips on this contact dave.seglins@cbc.ca or laura.clementson@cbc.ca

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