Editor’s note, Oct. 15, 11:21 a.m.: Brown Paper Tickets responded to a request for comment after this story was published, and issued a statement via one of their attorneys. That statement has been added to the story below.
Simone Seitz, who runs an outreach and support hub for people struggling with eating disorders, knows all about tight budgets.
Last year, the Carolina Resource Center for Eating Disorders — which operates a help line, support groups and referral services in North Carolina — pulled in just $91,679 in donations and grants. The organization had been expecting another $10,855 from a conference it hosted in late February 2020, but that money disappeared. Attendees had registered for the conference through the Seattle-based ticket broker Brown Paper Tickets (BPT), which had a financial meltdown at the onset of the pandemic. Consequently, the check BPT sent the Carolina Resource Center was frozen.
In all, BPT failed to pay around $7.6 million to customers — ticket buyers and event organizers — during the COVID crisis.
The deadline has passed. According to the Attorney General’s Office, the vast majority of Washington state consumers have been paid — but thousands around the country, including Seitz and the Carolina Resource Center for Eating Disorders, are still waiting.
“Fundraising is challenging and even more so for eating disorder nonprofits,” Seitz said, adding that the pandemic made things even more difficult with the cancellation of fundraising events, the attrition of volunteers and increased pressure on people dealing with mental health crises. “We have a very conservative budget and the loss of the money affected us significantly. Had we not received PPP [federal assistance], we would not have been able to cover our expenses.”
In a statement issued through their attorney on Oct. 14, Brown Paper Tickets said the company “remains committed to the event industry” and that they have continued to issue scheduled refunds daily.
“Brown Paper Tickets voluntarily entered into the original agreement with the State of Washington Attorney General’s Office, and though we are behind schedule, the team at Brown Paper Tickets, both here in the company’s Seattle headquarters and at its offices globally, remains dedicated to this process,” the company said in its statement.
The Attorney General’s Office said it did not detect any malfeasance in the Brown Paper Tickets collapse. “It appeared to us that the company’s internal accounting and payment system was overwhelmed when the pandemic hit,” the office said in March. (At that time, the Attorney General’s Office estimated BPT owed customers $9 million, but has since readjusted that number to $7.6 million.)
Nevertheless, ripples from BPT’s meltdown were felt across the country by a wide spectrum of communities: summer camps, theater and dance companies, musicians, church groups, social clubs and humanitarian efforts, including a group of friends in the United States who hosted an online film festival to raise funds for survivors of the deadly 2020 explosion in Beirut.
“As Lebanese in the diaspora, we were in shock and wanted to do anything and everything we could to help,” said Raed Rafei, a filmmaker and journalist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who helped organize the fundraiser. “Many communities in Beirut were hit hard by the explosion and all help was desperately needed.”
According to figures from the Attorney General’s Office, BPT has paid 349 Washington event organizers a total of $686,400 and refunded 3,091 state ticket buyers a total of $243,301. (The company still owes 22 Washington organizers $37,224. The Attorney General’s Office said those 22 have been contacted but either didn’t respond or suspected BPT’s outreach was a scam.)
Outside the state, BPT has refunded 691 organizers $1,010,865 and 2,287 ticket buyers $227,556.
But tens of thousands of others outside the state, like Seitz and Rafei, are still owed money. The Attorney General’s Office says BPT still owes $2,141,406 to 616 event organizers and $3,250,920 to 56,069 non-Washington ticket buyers.
State Attorney General Bob Ferguson said this week that his office is still deciding what it might do in response to BPT’s missed Oct. 8 deadline.
“Our first priority was getting Washingtonians their money back — that’s been accomplished,” Ferguson said. “We are aware that Brown Paper Tickets missed the court-ordered deadline for completing repayments to consumers across the country. We’re reviewing all of our legal options to ensure they comply with their obligation to provide full refunds for everyone across America.”