Justin K. Aller - Getty Images
I was one of the (un?)lucky thousands of Maple Leaf fans who were awarded the opportunity to purchase tickets to the 2013 Winter Classic through MLSE. On July 31st, I purchased four tickets via the Leafs' Ticketmaster site. I did so fully cognizant of the likelihood of an extended lockout that could potentially wipe out the event. Luckily, I had comfort in knowing that the cost of my tickets would be refunded should the league cancel the event. Win-win, right?
One thing that was not disclosed to the general public regarding the Winter Classic was the league's deadline for cancelling the event: January 1st, the day of the game. This news didn't leak out to the press until mid-August, roughly two weeks after myself and many others had already purchased tickets. I'll admit that it seems pretty unlikely that the league would be making a decision on cancelling the game until the last second. They'd lose hundreds of thousands of dollars on money spent making ice, paying staff, etc. But the news that the league had an easy out clause in their contract with the University of Michigan bothered me.
As the lockout has dragged on and the league has begun cancelling regular season games, I've become less and less enthused about having a significant amount of money tied up in an investment that looks increasingly unlikely to pay out. With a wedding and the holidays coming up, I decided it might be in my best interest to try and cancel my ticket order and spend the money elsewhere. Not only that, but assuming the Winter Classic is cancelled, it could take weeks for both teams to sort out and process refunds. I didn't want to deal with that hassle. So, thinking I would get ahead of the game, emailed the MLSE ticket rep listed on my electronic receipt about cancelling my order. The tickets haven't even been mailed out yet (I was told not to expect tickets until sometime in mid-December). I've paid for a product that I haven't yet received .
Long story short, I was told that the only way I would get my money back is if the NHL cancels the game. I called back looking for elaboration, and was basically told this: the game isn't considered a "Toronto game" and MLSE doesn't have control over the money. The only way ticket sales get returned to MLSE is if the league cancels the event. At that point, MLSE will take a chunk of money out of your original payment (a handling fee of some sort) and, after who knows how long, will refund most of your money (Let me stress that both MLSE reps were cordial and understanding of my concerns, but conceded their hands were tied). No where on the Leafs' Winter Classic site, or in the electronic receipt that I received, does it state that all sales are final and the customer cannot cancel their order.
What makes matters worse is the fact that I don't live in Southern Ontario. I'm Canadian, but I've spent most of my life in North Carolina. In order to go to the Winter Classic, that means airfare. For others who have tickets and would be considered outside of driving distance, this is yet another hassle. What if someone who bought tickets back in July went ahead and paid for airfare as well? It looks like you're fucked if the NHL cancels the game unless you shelled out for a refundable ticket. For me, the difference between two regular airline tickets and two refundable tickets would run about $1500 and I live in the US. I'd imagine that would be significantly higher for someone flying from Montreal or Vancouver. And what about those fans who bought tickets but have waited for resolution to the lockout before making travel plans? When I checked flights to Detroit back in the summer, the cost was significantly less than it is now. I don't fly a lot, but I've always been under the impression that it's best to book earlier than later. So if the lockout is resolved in time to save the Winter Classic, you're now shelling out more money for a flight.
I'd have a difficult time arguing that a lot of these circumstances were unpredictable back in July with a lockout looming. And that's not really what bothers me. What does bother me is that the Leafs don't give fans an option to step back from the table and say "It's just not worth the hassle." I had a 48 hour window in July to buy tickets. I had to make a decision on whether or not I wanted to spend the money without knowing whether we'd be playing hockey in October. It seems that the least MLSE could do is allow fans who are concerned about how this will all go down over the next two months the opportunity to back out before the tickets are distributed. It's not like it will push their books into the red. Heck, just write down "NON-REFUNDABLE" on the damn website so I know I'm fucked from the get-go. How difficult is that?
tl;dr - If you want to get your money back from MLSE because you're convinced the Winter Classic will be cancelled, don't bother. They won't give you a refund until the league cancels the event.