Sports Fans Face Refund Confusion Amid COVID-19



By Eric Rose and Thom Weidlich

Our first post about communicating the COVID-19 pandemic noted at least two canceled music festivals weren’t planning to provide refunds, which we said would probably lead to another round of crises. The refund issue is now raging in the worlds of sports and recreation. Some companies are handling it better than others.

Many of those refusing to refund rely on the idea that the events are postponed rather than canceled. None exemplifies this more than Major League Baseball, especially for those with season tickets. It’s pretty clear to everyone that MLB can’t play a full season, yet the league deems missed games as being merely postponed. In terms of refunds, that’s similar to a rainout.

The MLB page on this notes that on March 15 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended restricting events of more than 50 people for two months. So the opening of the 2020 baseball season, scheduled for March 26, was pushed back.

“The Clubs remain committed to playing as many games as possible when the season begins,” the MLB page says.

As for individual teams, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ FAQ at its website, for example, says, “In coordination with MLB, the Dodgers will provide more information about our plans, including our ticket policy for impacted games, as soon as it is available.”

We’re pretty certain that, for a lot of fans, that’s not good enough.

Another company that’s run into issues on the COVID-19 refund front is ticket-resale outfit StubHub. The company boasts about its FanProtect policy that provides cash refunds of tickets to canceled events. Yet in the wake of the coronavirus, and according to a refund policy dated April 10 on its site, it is instead offering a credit of 120 percent of the value.

Class Action

A lot of people are unhappy. On April 2, a Wisconsin man seeking class-action status sued StubHub for the alleged retroactive cancellation of the FanProtect cash-back policy.

Another related industry are gyms. Some have been quick to stop charging members once they were ordered to shut down. For example, Equinox told its customers by March 17 they wouldn’t be billed while its gyms were shuttered. “Your membership will be put on freeze at no cost as of the day the club closed,” it wrote.

Planet Fitness also froze memberships. “We have proactively frozen all memberships on your behalf, and you will not be charged any fees during this time,” it wrote. “We will keep you informed and let you know when your club is ready to reopen, and look forward to serving you in a clean, sanitary, and judgment-free environment.”

Not all gym operators have been so cooperative.

On April 3, the attorneys general of New York, Pennsylvania, and the District of Columbia wrote to Town Sports International — parent of New York Sports Clubs, Boston Sports Clubs, and other gyms — about continuing to charge fees even though its gyms are closed and about its unclear refund policy.

Membership Freeze

According to the letter, the company at first said members could cancel their memberships only in person, when the gyms were closed, or by certified mail. As late as a March 31 email to members, the company was still vague about how they could cancel or freeze memberships and how credits would be issued.

Apparently the company is getting the message. On April 8, it posted a member letter announcing all memberships are frozen at no cost and advising on how to cancel. But now Town Sports is reportedly considering bankruptcy.

From a crisis communications point of view, sports teams and related organizations should recognize what Equinox and Planet Fitness already have: People are facing economic hardship due to COVID-19 — millions have lost their jobs — and shouldn’t have to wait many months to get their money back.

Companies that don’t see this are metaphorically blind. Sports teams and related companies should understand the goodwill that would come from refunding tickets immediately — and communicating that effectively.

Image Credit: MLB

This is an abridged version of an article that appeared today on the CrisisResponsePro paid subscription portal. (CrisisResponsePro subscribers can access the full version by clicking here. ID and password are required.) To take advantage of all of the content, data, and collaborative resources CrisisResponsePro has to offer, contact us at

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