How ticket buyers are affected by sports shutdown in Atlanta

With the MLB season postponed indefinitely, the third-base gate at Truist Park is chained shut.

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

With the MLB season postponed indefinitely, the third-base gate at Truist Park is chained shut.

With sports shut down by the coronavirus pandemic, many fans wonder when or if they’ll be able to get ticket refunds.

Three of Atlanta’s major pro sports teams have their seasons on hold – the Braves, Hawks and United – and fans, including season-ticket holders, have paid for many games that haven’t been (or won’t be) played as originally scheduled.

“I … think there are those who hope games get refunded as money/jobs/etc. are tight for many,” Andrea Morris, an Atlanta United season-ticket holder, wrote in an email. “They might be big fans, but with the current state of things, family and food and shelter are now first in their minds for where money needs to go.”

Here’s how the three teams are handling the ticket situation at this point:

• The Hawks said tickets for postponed games will be valid if and when the games are rescheduled, but spokesman Garin Narain also said "refunds are being issued upon request" for tickets bought directly from the team.  A link to a refund request form is on the team's website.

• The Braves sent an email to season-ticket holders Wednesday that said MLB “has committed to playing as many games as possible this season.” The email also said: “We … are working to provide you with all possible options for you to reschedule your trip to Truist Park later this year. … Please be assured that you will not lose any deposits or payments you’ve already made for the season.” Immediate refunds were not offered.

• Atlanta United said games have been postponed, not canceled, and that MLS is still planning to play a full season. If so, fans eventually will be able to use their tickets. But if that changes, the team said it “will coordinate with the league and determine process at that time.” The deadline for United season-ticket payments was in February, and as of now refunds aren’t being offered for postponed games.

The NBA announced the suspension of its season on March 11, quickly followed by MLB and MLS, and there’s no solid indication at this point when any of the leagues will be able to resume. The Hawks had only seven home games remaining when play stopped, while the Braves were in spring training and Atlanta United had just started its season.

Atlanta’s biggest scheduled sports event this spring -- college basketball’s Final Four, which was to have been played this weekend -- was canceled on March 12. Some fans have received ticket refunds for the games that would have been played at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday and Monday, while others are still waiting for refunds to be issued.

Chris Vineyard, who bought his tickets directly from the NCAA, got his refund about two weeks after March Madness was canceled. Morris also got a Final Four refund within about two weeks and was “overall very happy with the experience.”

But not all buyers have gotten refunds so smoothly.

StubHub, a large ticket re-seller, originally offered Final Four buyers the option of receiving a full refund or receiving a credit worth 120% of the purchase price to use on future orders. But StubHub last week changed its refund policy amid the widespread cancellations of events, making the 120% credit the only option except in jurisdictions where laws require refunds.

A StubHub spokeswoman said all Final Four ticket buyers who received emails from the company before March 23 notifying them of the option of a refund “still have that option available.” She said refunds are paid approximately three weeks after they are requested.

For all events canceled on or after March 23, StubHub’s new policy of a 120% credit will apply, the spokeswoman said.

In general, secondary-market ticket sites – and most teams – won’t issue refunds or credits for postponed events unless or until a decision is made not to reschedule them. (The Hawks said they have authorized to issue refunds for postponed games if the original tickets were purchased through the site, but that doesn’t apply to re-sale tickets bought from Ticketmaster or elsewhere.)

Sports fans who already have paid for tickets don’t know when or if the games will be rescheduled and in many cases may not want to attend them even when play resumes.

“Even if Major League Baseball and the Braves start the season, I don’t see a lot of people just jumping up and saying, ‘Let’s go be a foot or two feet away from people and be banging shoulders,’” long-time Braves season-ticket holder John Shafer said this week.

The Braves were to have opened their home schedule Friday night. Shafer said he understands why the team isn’t offering refunds at this point.

“It’s kind of a waiting game because nobody has a clue what will happen,” Shafer said. “If I’m the Atlanta Braves, I sure as heck don’t want to be refunding millions of dollars unless I absolutely have to and am pushed to the wall to do it.”

Both the Braves and Atlanta United are in leagues that have said they will consider extending the season deeper into the year to reschedule games.

“MLS makes a bulk of their revenue off gate entry and tickets since they don’t have the TV deals other major leagues have,” wrote Morris, an Atlanta United season-ticket holder since the team’s inception. “I am sure they do not want to refund and only do it as a last resort.”

If a shortened MLB season is played, Shafer, who has had multiple Braves season tickets every year since 1991, thinks refunds should be issued for any games that aren’t rescheduled. But he wonders if the Braves instead might ask season-ticket holders to apply such over-payments to postseason or 2021 tickets. The team hasn’t said, and likely hasn’t determined, how it would handle that circumstance.

Many Braves season-ticket buyers had the last of five installment payments due March 20. The Braves didn’t process those payments, telling fans the due date would be pushed back “until we have a better understanding from MLB on our 2020 schedule.” Even so, fans on that payment plan have paid for 80% of their season-ticket cost.

Many Falcons fans also were in the midst of season-ticket payment plans when COVID-19 shut down sports. The Falcons offered the option of deferring until July 1 the season-ticket installment payments that were due Wednesday.

Still, some season-ticket buyers want to know what will happen if fewer Falcons games are played in the fall than they have paid for.

“We’re communicating similar information as the league is telling us. The plan is to play the full season,” said Don Rovak, the Falcons’ vice president of sales and service. “We’ll reevaluate if at a time anything is different than that.”