A slow drip of answers began with the email from the team.
“This is an unprecedented situation — one many of us could never have imagined,” the email read. “We continue to stay in close contact with MLB about the 2020 season. Until there is further guidance, we will postpone the April 15th Nat for Life Payment to July 15th.”
Baseball has been on pause since March 12, when Major League Baseball canceled the rest of spring training and announced a minimum two-week suspension of the start of the regular season. It was immediately apparent that the suspension would last much longer, and it is now unclear whether the season will happen at all. That reality has financial ramifications for thousands beyond players, coaches and executives. Season ticket holders are among those affected.
MLB, like all professional sports, is weighing a dreary present against an uncertain future. Teams are not refunding tickets for games that have not been officially canceled. They are holding off on exchanges for missed games — the ones that would have been played in the past three weeks — until they know what the schedule may look like. But individual clubs can choose to suspend or postpone charges, which the Nationals did for fans paying for season plans across a 10-month period.
The Nationals have postponed the April payment, which is now due in July. They have not decided on May or June payments.
In interviews with The Washington Post, more than a dozen season ticket holders lamented a lack of communication from the Nationals before Monday’s announcement. The phrase “radio silence” was used by four fans. Six others said that, by paying for games that may not happen, they feel as if they are giving a no-interest loan to a professional sports franchise. They were frustrated and confused before Monday’s announcement, and some still see a full refund as the only reasonable solution.
When asked about fans’ concerns about communication, a Nationals spokeswoman wrote in an email: “Our ticket reps have been in regular contact with fans via calls, emails, videos and newsletters. Given the lack of clarity surrounding the 2020 season, few specifics regarding refunds can be offered at this time.” In regard to refunds, whether they be for single-game tickets or season-plan payments, the spokeswoman wrote, “Currently, MLB has only postponed games — not canceled — and has asked teams to wait for their guidance on how to handle tickets.”
“Everyone’s situation is different, but I could really use the refund with all that’s going on,” said Patty MacEwan, who was a season ticket holder for five seasons, took off last year while dealing with health complications, then opted into a half-season plan for 2020 so she could have a chance at lower-priced World Series tickets. “That $2,400 would go a long way rather than getting it maybe a year from now.”
Many season ticket holders who opted in for 2020 at the end of last summer were on a 10-month payment plan that runs from September to June. The payments typically are due on the 15th of each month. Many fans, like MacEwan, bought partial season plans to have a chance at going to the World Series in October. The Nationals held a lottery for anyone who had a full-, half- or partial-season plan, and the prices of those tickets were better than the costs on Ticketmaster or the secondary market.
When asked how many season-plan holders the Nationals have for 2020, and how that number compares to 2019, a spokeswoman said the team does not share that information.
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred told ESPN in late March that “we’re probably not going to be able to” play a full 162-game schedule. That means full-season plan holders, such as Dorothy McGhee, are expecting to not get what they are paying for. The Nationals could eventually roll over money spent for 2020 to 2021 or offer fans credit for future tickets accordingly. But McGhee and others would prefer to make new decisions with their money.
The 75-year-old McGhee manages a plan for a small group and figures most won’t attend games in 2020. The fans in her group are older, McGhee explained, and would be hesitant to be in a large crowd until there is a coronavirus vaccine. She has already decided she will not go to games for that reason, calling herself “extremely at-risk” of contracting the virus.
That’s why McGhee requested a refund about a month ago, once it was clear that playing 81 games was unrealistic. Her income has been significantly reduced during the pandemic. She considers season tickets a luxury, not a necessary expense, but was told by the Nationals only that they are in a “holding pattern” and waiting for MLB to make a decision on how to proceed.
McGhee had considered canceling her credit card to halt monthly payments, seeing no other option. She won’t have to now that the Nationals have decided to suspend payments until July. Her next objective is to get back what she has already spent.
“They should refund the money that they have already charged, and then once they have a policy and a schedule of games, then they can charge us appropriately, and we can decide if we want tickets,” McGhee said. “Doesn’t that seem to make sense?”
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