In case you’ve paid for tickets and are wondering: Of course you’ll get a full refund for a 2020 NFL game that is canceled or prohibits fan attendance.
It’s pretty much a no-brainer of a policy when it comes to customer relations. Yet with the NFL set to release its regular-season schedule on Thursday night despite layers of uncertainty tied to the novel coronavirus pandemic, Commissioner Roger Goodell has confirmed that all 32 teams will follow a uniform approach on refunds for patrons who purchase tickets directly from the clubs.
Also, the NFL has pledges from licensed ticketing partners Ticketmaster and SeatGeek to comply similarly within 30 days of the affected event. StubHub will only do so in instances required by state law.
"They’re giving fans some confidence that if things don’t go as planned, they’re protected," Andrew Brandt, executive director of the Moorad Center for the Study of Sports Law at Villanova University and a former Green Bay Packers executive, told USA TODAY Sports. "They’re not going to be left high and dry."
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Sports consultant Marc Ganis said the league’s teams have, for years, had "a de facto policy" stating as much, but it was wise to reiterate the consistent approach given the current conditions.
The refund policy, though, is merely one reflection of the efforts by NFL teams in recent weeks to connect with paying customers.
A USA TODAY Sports survey of all 32 teams found that nearly 60% of the franchises (19) have deferred payments for season-ticket packages, with several teams instituting or considering multiple deferrals.
"Everybody understands that this year is an aberration," said Ganis, president of Sportscorp, Ltd.
It is unclear whether the pandemic will result in a widespread reduction of NFL season-ticket sales. Some indicators, such as a recent Seton Hall poll that found 72% of respondents declared they would not attend sporting events until a COVID-19 vaccine is available, suggest waning interest. Yet several NFL teams are poised to match or exceed previous demand.
While the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would not reveal season-ticket sales, the demand appeared to spike in March immediately after Tom Brady signed as a free agent.
The New York Jets have deferred payments for a third time — first in April, then in May, and now the June payment won’t be due until further notice. The team also announced that given the uncertainty in this climate, it won’t sell single-game tickets — as teams typically begin to do after the schedule is released. The Jets are the only team known to have halted single-game sales.
The Denver Broncos, meanwhile, had a season-ticket renewal rate of about 95%, which will ensure that the franchise will extend its record streak to 51 years for selling out each home game — so long as fans are able to attend games. And the Broncos still have a waiting list of 80,000 for season tickets.
The Jacksonville Jaguars, who this week announced a creative season-ticket option that allows buyers of a two-year package to defer 40% of the cost for this year’s tickets to next year, have had the best two-week boost of sales since the draft. The Jaguars also have picked up two additional games in Jacksonville, with their "home games" pegged for London moved.
Chad Johnson, the Jaguars’ senior vice president of sales and service, told USA TODAY Sports that the club was driven to expand options after eliciting feedback from fans. His 50-person sales staff talked to roughly half of the 13,000 season ticket account holders over a seven-week period, with the polling revealing some concerns related to economics.
"We got a lot of feedback," Johnson said. "We found that there is cautious optimism among the fans, but still uncertainty. There was also the sentiment, 'I know I'm going to bounce back, but it might take time.' This plan was based on that feedback."
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Every NFL team, even those that didn’t adjust payment dates, indicated that it is willing to work with individual season-ticket holders on a case-by-case basis if a hardship is expressed. The Chicago Bears, for example, held onto a payment deadline date of March 20.
"But in 100% of cases where a customer asked for an extension we granted it and tailored it to their individual needs," spokesman Adam Widman said in a statement. "We understand and are sensitive to everyone’s individual situation and how fluid this is for us all."
Yet even in deferring payments and with dire projections of how overall revenues could be affected, the NFL has been afforded more time than other leagues to formulate plans, with the pandemic emerging during the league’s offseason. Several teams had season-ticket renewals — and payments received — in February, before the outbreak resulted in stay-at-home measures. At least four teams (Tampa Bay, San Francisco, Miami and Detroit) have year-round payment plans and didn’t automatically defer any payments.
As Ganis pointed out, in a normal year, the liquid revenues from season-ticket sales is important from an operational standpoint, as payments from the massive national TV contracts don’t begin until August.
Of course, this is no normal year, with the NFL, which generates at least $15 billion in annual revenues, bracing for the potential need to adjust whatever schedule it releases on Thursday night.
"But you still have to have the cash," said Ganis, who has consulted with three leagues and at least a half-dozen teams on matters involving re-opening the sports landscape. "That’s where the liquidity comes in. The league is so strong financially that they can find ways to help teams that may need some help in the short term. There aren’t many of them, but there may be a few."
Especially if season-ticket sales are down … and if refunds are up.
Follow Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell.
NFL teams' season-ticket policies
Arizona Cardinals: Deposit deadline (one-third of total) deferred from April 1 to May 1
Atlanta Falcons: Option to defer April 1 and May 1 payments to tack on to end of payment plan
Baltimore Ravens: Skipped April payments, final payment due June 15
Buffalo Bills: No deadline
Carolina Panthers: Extended deadline for final payment from Aug. 1 to Sept. 1
Chicago Bears: March 20 deadline not moved
Cincinnati Bengals: Deferred final payment from April 15 to May 15
Cleveland Browns: Five-month payment plan began April 1
Dallas Cowboys: No change, with first invoice on May 1
Denver Broncos: No changes to deadlines in February and June
Detroit Lions: Feb. 28 was deadline for “Lionsurance” payment plan, with a year-round plan offered
Green Bay Packers: Payment deadline moved from March 31 to June 1
Houston Texans: April 20 payment deadline moved to June 20
Indianapolis Colts: For March 15-May 15 payment plan, initial payment deferred to June 15
Jacksonville Jaguars: Deadline to renew pushed to June 5, no payments required until June 20, and new two-year plan allows deferment of 40% of Year 1 cost to roll to Year 2
Kansas City Chiefs: No changes to Feb. 17 deadline, five-month payment plan
Las Vegas Raiders: Final two payments (previously extended until April 15 and May 15) both deferred to July 3
Los Angeles Chargers: Deadline for payments pushed to May 15, considering another pushback
Los Angeles Rams: Option to skip May 1 payment, with balance paid from June 1 to Oct. 1
Miami Dolphins: Year-round payments
Minnesota Vikings: Final deadline moved from April 16 to June 1
New England Patriots: Deadline for final payment pushed to June 30
New Orleans Saints: No change; 50% was due in mid-March with final payment by June 1
New York Jets: April, May and June deadlines for payments all were deferred
New York Giants: Final payment deferred to July 1
Philadelphia Eagles: TBD
Pittsburgh Steelers: Final payment deferred from May 1 to June 1
San Francisco 49ers: No change, year-round payment plan
Seattle Seahawks: No change to June 15 deadline for final payment
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: No change to 12-month payment plan, in place since at least 2013
Tennessee Titans: Deadline pushed from March 16 to May 4
Washington Redskins: First payment deferred from April 1 to May 1
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