Steve Newhouse was enough of an Eric Clapton fan to shell out $400 for Saturday’s concert at Amalie Arena in Tampa.
But that was before Clapton publicly complained about COVID-19 vaccinations and precautions, including a protest song with the lyrics: “This has gotta stop/Enough is enough.”
Newhouse, of Tampa, decided he’d had enough, too, especially since the arena isn’t imposing any mandates on masks or vaccines. He wants his money back, but that looks unlikely.
“I am taking a bath because of his ignorant anti-vax stance and Amalie’s lack of any real safety precautions,” Newhouse said.
AEG, which is producing the Clapton tour, won’t require audience members to provide proof of a vaccine or a negative coronavirus test until next month.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, Live Nation has heard complaints across the country about its policy starting Oct. 4 that says concertgoers will have to bring printed proof of vaccination or a negative test result. Some ticket holders have asked for a refund in protest.
Robin Greer of Plant City bought two pit passes for Jason Aldean’s show Oct. 30 at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre. That tour is produced by Live Nation. Worried about the way the pandemic has affected live shows, she also purchased ticket insurance for a total of $324.
When she found out the show requires vaccination or a negative test, she filed a claim with the ticket insurance for a refund. The claim was denied.
“They said our claim didn’t meet the criteria for a refund. It’s ridiculous,” Greer said. “When we purchased the tickets, there was no health check required. I’m not getting vaccinated. It’s my right, and I just don’t think they should be doing this to people.”
Unless an event is canceled or postponed, ticket holders don’t have a right to a refund, consumer advocates say, though venues can expect the question to keep coming up.
As Florida saw a spike in coronavirus cases brought on by the highly contagious delta variant, local performance halls began imposing policies such as proof of a vaccine or negative coronavirus test and a variety of mask rules.
People who bought tickets months ago are now finding little support if they are unhappy with a venue’s current policies.
Melissa Helfer of Seminole bought four tickets for Aldean’s show back in May for $143 each and was surprised at how difficult it was to talk to a live person about a refund.
“Two of us are fully vaccinated and the other two are not and do not want to get vaccinated nor do they feel they need to show proof of a negative COVID test to go to an event we paid for months ago,” Helfer said.
Tickets frequently are nonrefundable, and many are nontransferrable, making them harder to sell. Refunds are up to the event organizer or venue.
“With live events starting back up and the industry eager to get back to a new normal, I would expect we will see more consumers expressing concerns like this,” said John Breyault, vice president of pubic policy for the National Consumers League. “They don’t have to, but I think the right stance for venues and ticket sellers is to offer consumers refunds if they have health-related concerns.”
As a wave of events were canceled in 2020, Ticketmaster adjusted the language on its website to only list cancellation as a basis for getting money back, though it suggests there may be other circumstances in which refunds might be considered.
Vinik Sports Group, which manages Amalie Arena, didn’t address whether it will give refunds, but said it “places the highest priority in providing a safe environment.”
“We are navigating the asks of each individual event while ensuring the healthiest environment possible,” the company said in response to questions about refunds.
When the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa announced in early September that it would soon be imposing a mandate of a negative COVID-19 test or vaccination proof to attend shows, it offered a short window for refunds “if an existing purchaser is unable or unwilling to comply with the new policy.”
That offer ended Sept. 15 and the Straz Center says refunds or credits for subsequent shows will be addressed on a rolling monthly basis.
“I didn’t think it would be this hard to get a refund,” Helfer said. She called and emailed Live Nation and the amphitheater repeatedly, with no response to her request to refund just two of the four tickets. On Wednesday she emailed a request for a full refund of all four tickets and received a response that she would get it.
“The venue has changed their rules so they should have made this their priority, to be on top of getting refunds out,” Helfer said. “We shouldn’t be forced to have to choose whether to lose our money or to go because they changed it from the time we purchased the tickets.”