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How to Be a Savvy Ticket Buyer Amid Coronavirus Cancellations

This year's Bird City Comedy Festival was canceled due to coronavirus concerns.
This year's Bird City Comedy Festival was canceled due to coronavirus concerns.
Matt Santos

The arrival of coronavirus (COVID-19) has consumers facing new concerns about possible event cancellations and whether they’ll be able to get refunds for the tickets they’ve purchased to events ranging from concerts to plays.

Both Austin’s South by Southwest and Miami’s Ultra Music Festival have been canceled due to coronavirus; neither is issuing ticket refunds. More recently, the NBA announced that it’s suspending its current season, concert promoters Live Nation and AEG have suspended touring, and Disneyland has announced it is temporarily closing its California theme parks.

But deciding not to buy tickets could leave small arts organizations or local creatives in a lurch, according to Joseph Benesh, who heads an arts advocacy group called Arizona Citizens for the Arts. “Our small local groups are most vulnerable,” he says.

If you’re worried your wallet might take a hit due to an event cancellation, it’s a great time to check with ticket sources about their cancellation policies.

Phoenix New Times reached out to Ticketmaster for tips for people trying to avoid losing money when events get canceled due to coronavirus. The company responded by sending links to its website, where it addresses refunds and ticket insurance.

Check with your credit card company about their policies, as well. It’s worth finding out whether they reimburse consumers who bought tickets to events that get canceled, and you won’t know what to expect if you don’t ask ahead of time. Also, check with your bank on their debit card refund policies.

In some cases, you might want to consider paying for ticket insurance when it’s available. But you’re the only one who can really weigh the cost of insurance against the odds of an event not taking place as planned. It’s worth taking a little extra time to do your homework and read the fine print — whether you’re buying tickets from a national outlet or a local arts group.

Local event promoter Steve Chilton (aka Psyko Steve) is optimistic at this point. “I would not worry about events that are canceled not issuing refunds,” he told New Times by email on Wednesday, March 11. “The exceptions are going to be rare.”

Even so, he notes that choosing to stay home from an event that hasn’t been canceled won’t entitle you to a refund. “If you have tickets to an event that you don’t want to go to, you should try and find someone to give the tickets to or sell them online.”

Of course, people who buy tickets from individuals should know that they won’t have any recourse if an event gets canceled due to the coronavirus.

The M3F Festival still went down as planned this month.EXPAND
The M3F Festival still went down as planned this month.
Angela Adams

In some cases, policies may be somewhat flexible.

That’s the case with Arizona Theatre Company, which performs at Herberger Theater Center. Geri Wright, the managing director designee, sent New Times a written statement about how they’re approaching ticket-holders who may be ill or concerned about being with a group.

“We are considering a number of options and will address each situation on a case-by-case basis,” Wright wrote.

“Among the options are ticket exchanges, with no charges or fees, to future productions,” he added. “Our goal is to accommodate requests from single ticket buyers and season subscribers to alleviate their concerns and to maintain the health of all of our patrons, staff, donors, and artists.”

The city of Phoenix Office of Arts and Culture issued coronavirus “preparation tips” for the arts and culture sector on Tuesday, March 10. Those tips include reviewing and updating “cancellation or closure policies and practices” and sharing measures being taken, such as instituting more flexible ticket return policies, with patrons.

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Benesh hopes people will consider both their own financial situation and the financial health of the local arts groups they support. “If you lose money spent on a ticket, you lose the experience of being at the event, but if an arts group loses ticket revenue for two months, it may have to close its doors,” he says.

He’s hoping people will think about ways to support the groups that could be affected by canceled events or low ticket sales, such as making donations or shopping for their merchandise online.

Jaime Dempsey, who heads Arizona Commission on the Arts, agrees that donating the cost of tickets is one way to support local arts and culture amid coronavirus concerns. “We’ve seen other communities issue broad calls for people to donate the cost of tickets or fees,” she says. “Arts organizations depend on these fees,” she says.

Even so, Dempsey says the top priority for arts groups is people. “What we need to center in this moment,” she says, “is the health and safety of staff, patrons, audiences, and community members.”

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