Disappointed ticket holders lost out after the Playground Weekender, a three-day camping and music festival held at Wiseman’s Ferry, was cancelled due to flood warnings. Festival promoter Andy Rigby made the decision to cancel the event on March 1 after a severe flood warning was announced for the Hawkesberry River and local residents were evacuated. The cancellation was made a mere 36 hours before the festival was due to commence, and as quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald, Mr Rigby said they were simply ‘caught out by a natural disaster.’ The problem for festival goers was however that the promoter was unable to recuperate expenses paid on the event and therefore could not provide refunds for the $200 tickets that people had purchased in advance. The promoter had not taken out insurance against natural disasters forcing cancellation of the festival and according to the Sydney Morning Herald, conceded in hindsight that this had been a mistake. He pointed to a number of positive measures that had been taken to protect against rain-related risk including monitoring the weather and the level of Warragamba Dam and ensuring that the event site had an effective drainage system. Unfortunately in this case it was not foreseen that there could be a need to transfer the risk entirely to a third party.
Customers who bought their tickets via credit card through the ticket provider Green Tix have been able to secure refunds. All others have been advised to raise a dispute with their bank, PayPal or their ticket provider. Difficulties have arisen for some ticket holders given time and other limitations placed on dispute-raising by the policies of some ticketing and payment gateways. Paypal’s Buyer Protection Policy for example only covers disputes that are raised within 45 days of purchase and applies exclusively to tangible (as opposed to electronic) tickets.
Recognising that the incident has caused a large degree of inconvenience and frustration, Mr Rigby stated, “if I had $20 left to pay back someone's ticket, then I would” however he maintains that “we haven't tried to do anything deceitful, honestly.” According to a spokesman for NSW Fair Trading, formal investigation into Mr Rigby’s practices will not be conducted because, “the circumstances of the cancellation of the concert are not entirely attributable to this trader.”
What this case does highlight however is the importance for event organisers to purchase insurance which covers event cancellation under all reasonably foreseeable circumstances. While a natural disaster may be unavoidable, the risk of not being able to refund ticket holders is one that can be controlled. Failing to do so can result in significant financial duress for the promoter and longer term reputational damage both for the promoter and the event itself. It is important that the cost of such insurance is factored into the budget for an event as a safeguard against the consequences of risk factors beyond their immediate control, that can force the disruption or cancellation of the event.