The Nats and NLCS ticket processing fees

October 19, 2012

(Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

A few Web sites have posted mildly angry items about the Nats and Tickets.com keeping a $6-per-order “processing fee” from ticket purchases for NLCS games that will never be played.

For example, just on Thursday, we had:

Deadspin: “The Nationals and Orioles insist that they use the fees to defray the costs of distributing and mailing tickets, but, you know—six dollars? Really?”

SportsGrid: “Six dollars per order doesn’t sound like a whole lot, but added up, we’re talking many, many thousands of dollars in both teams’ cases. Is that really necessary to cover costs on tickets for nonexistent games?”

DCist: “Though the Nationals offered refunds to people who bought tickets to the National League Championship Series games that could have been played had last Friday’s game gone differently, the offer left ticket buyers a little shortchanged.”

DeBonis: “Were these tickets to be printed on gold leaf and hand-delivered by private courier?”

And so on and so forth. Because I’ve somehow transformed from a populist rabble-rouser into a stooge for monied interests, I guess I’d sort of defend the team here, although I realize ticket fees are about as popular as Pete Kozma. These fees were spelled out in advance, and processing the ticket purchases (and refunds) involves labor and technology costs, whether the games are played or not. For at least some old-school buyers, there are also material and postage costs.

“The processing fees don’t really even cover the cost of doing all that,” Doug Lyons, the VP of Marketing and PR for Tickets.com, told me. “The standard practice in the industry for some time has been that those processing fees are not refunded. We’re not trying to hide from it; it’s been around for years, it’s standard practice. It’s a small fee to pay to get a chance to see your team in the playoffs.”

Still, I attempted to get some answers to a few of the outstanding questions.

What exactly are the processing fees used for?

Setup and technology, the printing of tickets, credit card fees, and postage and hard costs. Yes, some of these items do not apply to electronic tickets, but some do.

Who gets the money?

That’s part of the contract between the Nats and Tickets.com, and the breakdown is not publicly disclosed. Regardless, the team does not keep all of the money, and Lyons said that the fees do not cover the costs of ticketing and refunding unplayed games.

What happens in the case of unplayed games because of shortened series?

The same thing. Had the Nats lost the NLDS in four games, fans would have been refunded the cost of their Game 5 tickets, minus that same $6 processing fee.

Could the Nats decide not to charge such fees?

Yes.

“At the end of the day, it’s a team decision on how to expose those fees,” Lyons said. “Teams are more than welcome to build the fees into their pricing, to bury them in ticket costs, and not to expose them to fans.”

In that case, the team would have a contractual arrangement to help its ticket partner defray the sunk costs mentioned above for these unplayed games.

What about the oft-cited (this week) example of the Yankees refunding fees to fans for unplayed games in 2002?

Well, here is the AG’s release that year. You’ll note that the Yankees were charging a per-ticket fee, not a per-order fee. So for a customer “who purchased a ticket to each of the scheduled playoff home games, the agreement means a refund of at least $32.40.” Whereas Nats customers were charged by the order, not the ticket.

When will fans get their refunds?

The goal is to process the refunds within roughly 7-14 business days.

What if partial season ticket holders now have a future credit (from unused playoff tickets) equal to more than the cost of their 2013 plan?

Confusing question, but if this applies to you, you know what I’m talking about. The team has assured me on multiple occasions that if your credit for unused playoff tickets is worth more than the cost of your 2013 partial plan, you will be refunded the difference.

Any questions or complaints? Hit me. Not literally.

(First reported by WTOP, I believe.)

Dan Steinberg writes about all things D.C. sports at the D.C. Sports Bog.
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Sarah Kogod · October 18, 2012

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