The concerts were canceled months ago. So where are the refunds?
By Ben Sisario
Early this year, Joanne Brakatselos, a rock fan in Queens, New York, spent just over $1,000 for tickets to six concerts. In the months since those events were canceled because of the coronavirus, she got her money back for every show.
Brakatselos is one of the thousands of fans still awaiting refunds for Tool and Judas Priest shows at the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island, a case that has begun to draw attention and finger-pointing behind the scenes of the music industry.
For consumers like Brakatselos, who paid $356.70 for two tickets to see Tool, getting those refunds has been an exercise in frustration. Since June, when the band’s show was canceled, she has been back and forth numerous times between Ticketmaster and the Coliseum, to no avail.
The venue box office repeatedly asked for her patience and said it was working on the problem, while Ticketmaster said it was awaiting funds from the “event organizer,” according to emails and other communications Brakatselos shared with The New York Times.
“Both sides are pointing to each other, and I’m monkey in the middle,” Brakatselos said in an interview.
But Nassau County, which owns the Coliseum, says responsibility for the refunds rests with the former leaseholder of the venue — a company run by billionaire Russian investor Mikhail Prokhorov.
“Under the county’s lease agreement, resolving refunds falls squarely with the tenant,” a spokeswoman for Nassau County executive Laura Curran said in statement. The county directed further questions to Prokhorov’s company, Onexim Sports and Entertainment, which held the lease on the arena until August, when a deal brokered by Nassau County transferred it to an investor that had financed recent renovations to the 48-year-old building.
(As part of that deal, the investor, U.S. Immigration Fund — which is not affiliated with the federal government — paid more than $2 million that Onexim owed the county in back rent.)
The reason for the delay of the refunds remains unclear, as is the question of how the problem will be resolved now that Prokhorov’s company is no longer in control of the venue.
Nassau Events Center, the Onexim subsidiary that operated the venue, said it is “working closely with Ticketmaster regarding refunds for tickets purchased through that channel, and is aiming for those refunds to be processed as soon as possible.”
The company noted that fans who bought tickets directly from the Coliseum box office — usually a tiny portion of overall sales — can get their money back from the venue. But it did not respond when asked about the cause of the delay in refunds through Ticketmaster, or whether it could offer any more specific timing.
Prokhorov, who made his fortune in metals through the privatization of former Soviet assets in the 1990s, is well known to sports fans as the former owner of Barclays Center and the Brooklyn Nets. He is worth $11.3 billion, according to Forbes, and most recently has invested in virtual reality.
Ticketmaster’s exposure to refund claims is also uncertain. The company tells its customers that it pays refunds for all canceled shows in about 30 days. But the coronavirus shutdown has dealt a severe economic blow to Ticketmaster and its corporate parent, Live Nation Entertainment; the company reported that its revenue for the second quarter this year dropped 98% from the same period in 2019.
In a statement, Ticketmaster said only that it was “currently waiting” for Nassau Events Center to transfer the ticketing funds “so we can pass refunds along to fans.”
John Scher, the veteran New York-area concert promoter who was putting on the Tool show, said he has been flabbergasted by the arena’s refund failure. In an interview, Scher said his contacts at Ticketmaster and the venue told him that Ticketmaster had forwarded the money from the concert’s ticket sales — a little over $1 million, he said — to the Coliseum’s operators.
Scher said he had been unable to get answers about who was holding those funds and when refunds would be paid. But he minced no words in blaming Prokhorov and his company for the problem.
“The fact that they’re not refunding the money is blatantly unfair to the ticket holder,” Scher said in an interview. “There isn’t any gray area. He ran the building and took in the money.”
A spokeswoman for Prokhorov declined to comment beyond the statement issued by Nassau Events Center.
In a statement, Tool said it had not received any money from the show, and that “we simply do not have enough information to comment on the situation.”
But the band Judas Priest, which canceled a September show at the Coliseum, was more pointed.
“We hate the thought that fans are not getting their refunds but unfortunately we have no control over it,” said Jayne Andrews, a manager for the band. “The issue doesn’t lie with us, Live Nation or even Ticketmaster — the building must return the money to Ticketmaster first in order for Ticketmaster to do the refunds.”
Andrews said Judas Priest has had no refund problems at any of the other venues where it has canceled shows.