Months after Canadian Grand Prix cancelled, ticket holders still waiting for refunds
Lawyer suggests consumers complain to Better Business Bureau, Consumer Protection Office
The Formula One Canadian Grand Prix is known for its glitz and glamour, but months after the Montreal event was cancelled due to COVID-19, many frustrated ticket holders say they are still waiting for refunds, with no timeline in sight.
"It makes me worry that I won't see this money again," said Eileen Sheridan, who bought tickets totalling nearly $1,800.
In April, with the pandemic setting in, the Canadian race, scheduled for June 12 to 14, was postponed. At the time, organizers hoped to reschedule the event, but it was officially cancelled at the end of July.
Sheridan, who lives in Guelph, Ont., bought the tickets directly from Octane Racing Group, the official race organizer and promoter.
She was told that due to the volume of requests, refunds would take up to 60 days.
But when October rolled around and she still hadn't received any money back, she contacted customer service. They apologized for the delay but could not give her an exact date when her refund would be completed.
Sheridan contacted them again at the beginning of December and got the same answer.
"It's a significant amount of money for us," Sheridan said. "It's been a tough year for everybody, and it would definitely go a long way with us.
"It would just be nice to have that money back in my pocket."
CBC has spoken to several ticket holders based in British Columbia, Ontario and the United States. None of them have received refunds.
Some, like Jay Howard of Toronto, bought their race tickets from authorized F1 ticket resellers, rather than the promoter.
Howard bought four tickets from montrealgrandprix.com last Christmas. He thought it would be a great way to celebrate his son's upcoming high school graduation and 18th birthday.
Once the race was cancelled, Howard was promised a full refund of his nearly $1,900.
When the delay stretched well beyond the predicted 30 to 60 days, Howard repeatedly checked back with the reseller to find out what was going on.
Fed up, he decided to contact CBC Montreal last week after the reseller told him it had still not received any money back from the promoter, five months after the event was cancelled.
"I feel like I've been taken advantage of," Howard said.
The owner of montrealgrandprix.com, Angelo D'Ambra, said he feels terrible for his clients and understands they are angry and disappointed.
With Christmas around the corner, many people were counting on getting their money back.
"We don't have it," said D'Ambra, who has received demand letters. "I swear to you, I've literally broken down with clients having to make that call, telling them, 'It's your money. I know it's your money. You deserve to get your money back, we just don't have it right now.'"
He said his company buys tickets from Octane Racing Group but is independent from them.
"We haven't gotten refunded for the tickets from Octane," he said.
D'Ambra is asking his clients to trust that the refunds will eventually come through.
Soured on F1
The whole experience has left a bad taste in Taimi Williamson's mouth.
"Enough is enough. It's time to start giving people back their money," said Williamson, who bought her tickets from another F1 authorized reseller.
When she was told the reseller couldn't reimburse her because the promoter hadn't provided refunds yet, she contacted Octane Racing Group directly.
She was told it had no record of her purchase. Although the reseller buys tickets from them, it doesn't share client information.
Williamson has now forwarded all of her ticket information to Octane.
"Obviously, I would love an $800 credit on my credit card heading into Christmas because it's been a pretty steep month," said Williamson, who lives in London, Ont.
She thinks fans are being treated poorly and isn't sure she'd ever buy tickets for an F1 race again.
"I think it's terrible from a customer service perspective," she said.
Jeff Orenstein, a lawyer with the Consumer Law Group, said it doesn't matter if the tickets were bought directly from the promoter or a middleman.
In situations where an event is cancelled and no new date is selected, consumers who live in Quebec or who dealt with a Quebec-based company are entitled to refunds under the Quebec Consumer Protection Act.
He recommends consumers complain to both the Better Business Bureau in Quebec and the Office of Consumer Protection.
"There is power in numbers," Orenstein said.
He also suggests people check with their credit card company and ask for a chargeback for the purchase.
If that doesn't work, he said, people can go the legal route, but it can be costly.
It might also be complicated if the reseller sold the ticket at a markup.
If people do decide to go to court to recoup their money, he recommends naming as many people in the chain of distribution as possible.
"So there's going to be a little bit of a blame game being played perhaps between the defendants," Orenstein said. "But again, from the consumer's side, they don't really care who pays them back, they just want their money back."
François Dumontier, president of the Canadian Grand Prix and the head of Octane Racing Group, declined CBC Montreal's request for comment.