A German consumer group has criticised legislation that would force ticket-holders to accept vouchers instead of refunds as the country prepares for the possible return of the Bundesliga behind closed doors in a fortnight’s time.
German football chiefs met on Thursday and agreed on a plan to restart the country’s top two divisions on May 9. Matches would take place behind closed doors with a maximum of 322 people allowed in and around stadiums for top-flight Bundesliga matches and 270 for second-tier 2.Bundesliga games.
The final decision on the resumption will rest with the Federal Government, which has banned large-scale events until October 24, and state health authorities. The meeting between national and regional representatives at the end of April will determine whether the behind-closed-doors proposals for the 2019-20 season’s final nine matchdays can be allowed.
German consumer law decrees that ticket-holders are eligible for a refund for events they are not allowed to attend, however the Federal Government earlier this month outlined plans for a voucher scheme to shield its live sector from the financial impact of the coronavirus.
The legislation, which would force ticket-holders for concerts, sports events, courses and other events to accept a voucher, is likely to be passed by lawmakers within the next two weeks.
While the Government said the legislation has been designed to assist businesses who would be “threatened in their existence” and has been broadly welcomed by events organisers, not everyone is happy about the plans.
Verbraucherzentralen, a German consumer rights group, is critical of the legislation and said fans have been making contact for some time as to how they can claim a refund.
“Consumers and football fans must have the right to decide what they want: the money back or a coupon,” a spokesperson told TheTicketingBusiness.com.
“Ticket-holders have asked us how to react in regard of the proposals of their football clubs. We have suggested they should insist on being repaid the money and supported this with assistance in correspondence. We have also provided a lot of information for consumers on our homepage.”
Bundesliga clubs have for some time been pleading with fans to accept credit rather than claim refunds. Schalke, the club with the seventh highest average attendance in Germany, wrote to fans a few weeks ago and begged them to consider waiving refunds to ensure its continued “financial health”.
The Government said the vouchers would protect consumers’ investments as a wave of bankruptcies caused by refunds would “also likely mean that claims for reimbursement could no longer be made”.
The voucher must include the full admission price or all other fees including any advance booking fees. The holder can request payment of the value of the voucher if a voucher is unreasonable for him or he has not redeemed it by the end of 2021.
Earlier this month, Klaus-Peter Schulenberg, chief executive of Berlin-based CTS Eventim, said: “The voucher solution is pure consumer protection at the same time, because it gives promoters the vital liquidity they need to continue operating as going concerns during and beyond the coronavirus crisis. Consumers are thus protected from what would otherwise be unavoidable losses due to insolvency.”
The German League (DFL) has estimated that four top-flight sides and up to half of the 18-team 2. Bundesliga face the possibility of bankruptcy if the season does not restart by June.
An average of 43,000 fans attend each Bundesliga game, making it the best-supported league in Europe. Figures from 2013-18 show the English Premier League to be in second place with 36,700.
Borussia Dortmund are the best-supported team in Germany with an average gate of 81,150 at their 81,365-capacity Signal Iduna Park. Bayern Munich are second, with their average attendance of 75,000 filling the Allianz Arena.
Earlier this week, Dutch consumer rights group Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) said fans should consider accepting a refund-in-kind voucher after the nation’s league season was abandoned.
“The idea behind such schemes is to give consumers who are entitled to refunds vouchers or coupons for the amount of the down payment or financial obligation,” an ACM spokesperson told TheTicketingBusiness.com.
“According to the law, consumers are entitled to refunds if an event is cancelled. In general, we understand that companies cannot repay consumers en masse, because there is a risk that companies will go bankrupt.
“The ACM recognises that, due to the current extraordinary situation, it may be more reasonable and wiser for consumers to accept vouchers instead of demanding refunds, but the consumer should be able to return his ticket if he does not want to use the new date.”