MLB Opens Door For Teams To Offer Ticket Refunds After Suit

By Zachary Zagger
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Law360 (April 28, 2020, 9:58 PM EDT) -- Major League Baseball is changing its guidance to teams to allow them to potentially offer ticket refunds with the season delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, a move that comes after a proposed class of fans filed suit demanding their money back.

With the season now delayed more than a month, and it looking more and more likely that at least some games will either not be made up or played in stadiums with no fans, the league is telling teams they can resume their own ticket policies and may offer refunds, according to a person with knowledge of the guidance.

However, decisions will ultimately be up to the individual clubs, the person said. Teams are expected to start announcing their policies on Wednesday. 

The MLB regular season was set to start on March 26, but the league was shut down weeks prior in the middle of spring training due to concerns over the spread of the coronavirus.

The league had been telling teams to treat games as postponed, like they would with a rainout, and to encourage fans to hold onto their tickets for when the games are rescheduled. However, fans who purchased tickets through a third party such as StubHub will have to consult those sellers on refunds or other offers. 

StubHub has been offering ticket purchasers vouchers for 120% of their purchase price for events that have been officially canceled. StubHub and other hospitality and live-event companies have been hit with consumer protection claims from ticket holders demanding full refunds of their purchases. 

The MLB's change comes a week after two New York-based fans hit the league, its teams and online ticket sellers Ticketmaster and StubHub with a proposed class action in California federal court alleging that the defendants have been postponing games, rather than canceling them, as a "pretext" to avoid paying refunds.

The suit alleged fans "had no way of knowing" that MLB and the ticket sellers "had no intention of refunding them in the event that a public health and economic crisis were to occur."

The firm representing the plaintiffs, Milberg Phillips Grossman LLP, issued a statement Tuesday saying it was aware of the reports that MLB was opening the door for refunds but noted that MLB has not made any official statement.

The firm said that while games are not officially canceled, fans have been denied refunds, allowing "the MLB teams to continue to have use of the ticket purchasers' money as an interest free loan."

"It is a shame that it has taken this lawsuit to get a response to endless inquiries about refunds," the firm's statement said. "To be clear, the claims will not be resolved until ticket purchasers are refunded their money completely and immediately."

MLB has previously said it is "considering numerous contingency plans" to start the season with the hope to play as many games as possible. Reports indicate those plans include playing games in either or both Arizona and Florida in stadiums without fans and with players isolated in hotels.

No start date or formal plan has been released, making it increasingly unlikely that all 30 teams will be able to play a full 162-game schedule this year.

--Editing by Jay Jackson Jr.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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