Cash or Credit (or Nothing!): How Racing is Dealing with Ticket Refunds for Canceled Races
What a mess.
So, the race you planned on attending just got canceled. You get your money back for the ticket you purchased, right?
Not only is the coronavirus pandemic wreaking havoc on the motorsports world by forcing the cancellation or postponement of major events—and should the COVID-19 crisis continue, it may simply not be possible to reschedule every event, especially for series like NASCAR, which already has an absolutely packed, 36-race schedule—differences in ticket-holder polices for the events that didn’t or won’t happen are causing confusion and, in some cases, outrage.
As autoweek.com reported on Monday, at the heart of the controversy is the policy of race promoter Green Savoree Racing Promotions, promoter of the canceled Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, which was to run last weekend. Multiple races were to take place, with the event flagship being the IndyCar season opener.
Within the week leading up to the race, the event was to take place; then it was to take place for the TV cameras only, with no spectators; then it was canceled altogether. Rescheduling a race like St. Pete, which is run on city streets and a busy downtown airport, is especially difficult, far more so that races run on fixed, permanent facilities.
Over the weekend, Green Savoree was quoted as saying, in a statement posted on IndyCar.com, that the language printed on the back of event tickets includes this: “I am not entitled to a refund, replacement ticket, or other event admission material, or to payment for any damages of any kind for any reason from IndyCar or GSSP or Andersen including, without limitation, lost/damaged ticket, cancellation, shortening, rescheduling, or other alteration of the event. All sales are final—no money refunded or exchanges.”
In other words, you won’t get any of your money back for tickets you bought for the St. Petersburg, Florida, race. But the promoter is offering ticket holders the option of applying the money spent toward admission to the 2021 St. Petersburg race, or 110% of the money spent on St. Pete tickets to apply toward admission for IndyCar races at Mid-Ohio, Toronto or Portland. If you can’t make next year’s St. Petersburg race, or either of those other three races, you lose the money you spent on tickets for the 2020 St. Pete race.
Comments attached to a story about the policy printed in the Tampa Bay Times were unanimously negative. “Very short-sighted,” said one commenter. “This will end up costing you much more in future sales and goodwill.”
“Shameful by the promoters and for the city not to step forward to assist,” said another. “I hope they cancel the event permanently.” Some who have complained cited high cancellation fees for airline travel and hotels, and seem to regard the no-refund policy for their race tickets as an additional slap in the face.
This seems to be the policy for Green Savoree regardless of whether the race is held on a temporary course, or on a permanent racetrack, such as Mid-Ohio. If you log on to buy tickets to the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in August, late in the ticket-buying process you are indeed forewarned with this disclaimer: “All sales are final. No refunds or exchanges.”
We also went through the steps for buying a ticket for the Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix; you must click a box stating that you agree to the “Terms and Conditions” of the ticket sales. But if you read the fine print of those Terms and Conditions, a lengthy statement obviously penned by attorneys, you’ll find this: “ALL SALES ARE FINAL. There are no exchanges/refunds.”
Whether a promoter is willing to wave this in the interest of maintaining a solid relationship with fans—it appears some will, some won’t.
Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama, site of the canceled Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama that was scheduled for April 3-5, has already announced full refunds not only for tickets, but for Sunday onsite parking and for camping fees. The track was built, and is owned, by former racer and dairy magnate George Barber.
Last Monday, Las Vegas Motor Speedway dragstrip announced the postponement of the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals set for April 3-5. While it hopes to reschedule the event, the track—owned by Speedway Motorsports Inc.—listed the options available for Four-Wide ticket holders: “Ticket holders on file may (1) use their tickets for the postponed event, or (2) choose to receive an event credit for the full amount paid, plus an additional 20%, or (3) choose to receive a full refund of their purchase price.”
Conversely, if you hold a ticket for the NHRA Gatornationals in Gainesville, Florida, which was to be held at the NHRA-owned Gainesville Raceway March 13-15, you may have seen this posted on NHRA.com: “Current tickets will be honored at the rescheduled event or ticket holders may opt to use their tickets as a credit toward the 2021 Gatornationals.”
If you bought a ticket for the NASCAR Folds of Honor 500 at the SMI-owned Atlanta Motor Speedway, following is the appropriate information: “Ticket holders on file may use their March 13-15, 2020, tickets for the postponed event, choose to receive an event credit for the full amount paid plus an additional 20%, or choose to receive a full refund of their purchase price.”
Same for the SMI-owned Texas Motor Speedway, host of the postponed O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 NASCAR Cup race: “Ticket holders on file may use their March 27-29, 2020, tickets for the postponed event, choose to receive an event credit for the full amount paid plus an additional 20%, or choose to receive a full refund of their purchase price.”
Ticket holders for the NASCAR Cup race at the NASCAR-owned Homestead-Miami Speedway were greeted with this at the track website: “Tickets for the March 20-22, 2020, events will be honored on the rescheduled date. Alternatively, ticket holders may elect to receive a credit for the full amount paid plus an additional 20% of total amount paid to apply toward future events, including, but not limited to, grandstand seating, infield, camping, fan hospitality and pit passes. The 120% event credit can be used in a single transaction during the remainder of the 2020 season and entire 2021 season for a NASCAR sanctioned event at any NASCAR-owned track, subject to availability.”
But click through several menus to a Q&A page, and you find this: “Ticket holders requesting a refund must fill out the refund request form beginning on Monday, March 16, within 30 days following the rescheduled event announcement. All requests will be reviewed and, if approved, refunds will be made as soon as possible.”
Sebring International Raceway, which has postponed at least the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring race to Nov. 11-14, is honoring tickets for this weekend’s event, but says that we are “not able to offer cash refunds at this time.” The World Endurance Championship, which was to run a 1,000-mile race this Friday at Sebring, may or may not be part of the November weekend—a decision has not been made, but it seems like a long shot at this point.
With the possible exception of NASCAR, which owns many of the tracks it holds NASCAR races on, the decision rests with the promoter, not the sanctioning body, to decide on a refund policy. According to a spokesman for a major series, a great many races have multiple sanctioning bodies as part of the race weekend—the Detroit Grand Prix will feature races by IndyCar, Trans Am (sanctioned by the SCCA), IMSA and Historic Trans Am—and it is generally up to the promoter to decide on a refund policy, because trying to get all the involved sanctioning bodies on the same page would be a challenge.
For example, if you log on to the IMSA.com home page, there is no “buy tickets” link. The links for buying tickets accompany individual race listings, and the links take you to the individual promoter’s websites, not to a central IMSA processing point.
Bottom line, with very few exceptions, tickets for the majority of professional motorsports events are available either as walk-up purchases or as prerace purchases a day or two before the event. But if you want to buy in advance, read the fine print regarding postponements and cancellations on the series and the track websites, and lacking that, pick up the phone and get a clarification.
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