Ticketmaster offers Cosby tour refunds: Why the company is making a mistake

It’s a genius PR strategy for Ticketmaster--but a pretty strange move overall

By Erin Keane

Editor in Chief

Published January 14, 2015 6:15PM (EST)

Bill Cosby                    (AP/Brian Jones)
Bill Cosby (AP/Brian Jones)

Last week Bill Cosby resumed his stand-up tour with a series of shows in Ontario last week, and reactions were mixed—standing ovations from stalwart fans inside the venues, protests from anti-rape activists outside, with a few hecklers thrown in for good measure. The concerts themselves have been jarring events given the swirl of allegations of violence around the star that have resurfaced since last fall. Since Netflix and NBC both dumped Cosby back in November when the rape allegations against him began to snowball, it might have appeared to be a no-brainer for venues to cancel his live appearances, too.

But if Cosby wants the show to go on, venues have to oblige. “We’re under contract with the promoter to bring the artist to the venue,” venue management company Global Spectrum spokesperson Ike Richman told TheWrap last week. “[We] are not in any position to cancel the show. We’d be violating a contract if we did; there would be a lot of fines and legal fees.”

This weekend, Cosby heads south to Denver, where the U.S. leg of his tour, which runs through June, begins with two shows on Saturday. The AP reports more than 3,000 tickets have already been sold. If they’re spread evenly between the matinee and the evening performance, that puts the Buell Theater at about half-capacity—not exactly an overwhelming warm welcome from Colorado. But patrons now regretting early-bird ticket purchases have a loophole to get out of what is sure to be an odd, if not downright uncomfortable, experience. Denver’s city council isn’t blocking the show and the Denver Performing Arts Complex isn’t canceling, but if you have buyers’ remorse, Ticketmaster will issue a refund.

It’s a genius public relations strategy for Ticketmaster. The agency isn’t totally evil when it comes to refunds—they do refund canceled shows, and you can have up to 72 hours to pull out of a ticket purchase if the venue has agreed to the policy. But getting your money back for no longer digging the guy you liked back in October isn’t usually on the table. I can sympathize with ticketholders who don’t want to cheer on Cosby, an alleged unrepentant serial rapist, while he jokes about his wife, his family, or, you know, his reputation for drugging women. That sounds like a disgusting way to spend a Saturday evening, if you ask me.

But Ticketmaster is not L.L. Bean, with their legendary "refunds for any dissatisfaction" policy. Ticketmaster will not refund your purchase if you drove eight hours to hear one song and the artist, damn her, refuses to sing it. They don’t usually give a damn that you liked an artist enough to buy tickets to see him back in October but now for whatever reason sort of wish you hadn’t. Ticketmaster and promoters Live Nation had to face a class action lawsuit over a disastrous 2012 Katt Williams tour where he ended multiple shows abruptly, totally in shambles, before they quietly refunded tickets over their own protests that a ticket merely “entitles the ticket holder to enter the premises for the event, take his seat and view whatever show is put on for him. Courts around the country have held that a ticket does not entitle the holder to a performance that satisfies his subjective expectations.”

Nor does a ticket entitle its holder to a guarantee that they won’t learn that their former favorite star may be a criminal in the months between purchase and concert. If Cosby had any sense of shame over the allegations he'd probably have canceled his entire tour, but he does not and did not.

In his stand-up act, Cosby's not offering a dramatically different product than he presented on his last tour. He's been an alleged serial abuser of women (and a comedy trailblazer, and a pompous know-it-all) for years. What changed is people's feelings about that, and while that is a positive cultural development, it's also slightly absurd for people who didn’t pay attention to the existing rape allegations against Cosby to suddenly feel queasy about their purchases because the number of accusations have grown too numerous to ignore. I can’t get any of those hours I spent listening to his comedy albums back, either. If you wake up tomorrow and realize you believe Roman Polanski should be extradited to the United States to face his rape sentence, you don’t get to ask Criterion for your money back on that "Chinatown" Blu-ray. That’s not how it works. Experience usually does exact its price, and all things considered, this one's relatively cheap, even with Ticketmaster’s extravagant fees on top.

By Erin Keane

Erin Keane is Salon's Editor in Chief. Her memoir in essays, "Runaway: Notes on the Myths That Made Me," will be published in September 2022.

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Bill Cosby Rape Ticketmaster