There is some cognitive dissonance in purchasing tickets for a round of the playoffs that your team has no guarantees of even advancing to. The presale is a must, of course—the teams need time to sell out, and ticketholders would probably like to know more than a day or two in advance if they're going to a game. But beyond the fear of a jinx (every time I've won the lottery for the chance to buy World Series tickets, my team has bowed out in the ALCS) is a social contract. I promise to pay you for these tickets if these games actually happen. You promise not to charge me if they don't.
The Nationals and Orioles, each of whom went the distance in their division series and lost (the Nats in particularly heartbreaking fashion), had league championship series presales. So they're refunding their fans for the face value of those seats, but they're not refunding the $6 "service charge" that was tacked on to each order.
Some back-of-the-envelope math. Nationals Park's playoff capacity is about 45,000, and Camden Yards' is near 48,000. Multiply by four LCS home games for Washington, three for the Orioles. Assume two tickets per order. Each team just pocketed roughly $500,000 of their fans' money.
Ticket service fees are, real talk, probably the biggest bullshit in the world, and moreso in a world where most people print out their tickets at home. It's extra-extra-bullshit considering sellers increasingly tack on an additional fee to email you your tickets. The Nationals and Orioles say they will keep some of the fees to defray the costs of distributing and mailing tickets, (the rest goes to Tickets.com and Ticketmaster), but, you know—six dollars? Really?
The legality of pocketing the fees is...questionable. In 2002 the Yankees pulled the same move, keeping nearly $1.5 million in service charges for playoff games they never played. The State Attorney General got involved and forced the team to refund 90 percent of that cash. The last 10 percent was deemed more than enough to cover the team's actual costs. Since then, the Yankees and most MLB teams give full refunds.
As if the holdouts weren't odious enough, the Orioles initially tried to pass the buck on their free money, claiming they were handcuffed by an MLB policy that requires non-refundable service charges. After hearing from MLB, and being told that this is obviously a lie, they changed their story and admitted the choice was theirs and theirs alone.
Update, 4:36 p.m.: Rob Neyer reblogged this, then added an odd "correction," writing "some of the, umm, 'facts' in the Deadspin piece aren't actually, umm, facts. He also Tweeted this:
Added update to post about Nats and O's. Reminded again that Deadspin should always be fact-checked. Service fees still a disgusting ripoff.— robneyer (@robneyer) October 18, 2012
I emailed Neyer, asking which facts were in question. He responded,
You wrote that other teams stopped doing it, but I'm hearing from fans of basically every playoff team saying their teams still do do it.
If you have a source saying O's and Nats are unique, please send it along and I will issue another update.
I pointed out that I used the words "most MLB teams," and sent him links to teams' playoff ticket policies for the past four years. Of the 25 teams mentioned, only seven—including Washington and Baltimore—say service fees are non-refundable.
He then responded with
Since then, the Yankees and most MLB teams give full refunds.
Most MLB teams? I simply don't believe that you have demonstrated that. The Royals and the Twins? Did they publish their playoff-tickets refund policies?
So we presume no public clarification will be forthcoming. A reminder that Rob Neyer's factchecks should always be factchecked.