Brown Paper Tickets (BPT) has been in serious trouble since March, beset by complaints that it owes artists money. Now the Seattle-based company is being taken to court.
In August, attorneys in Seattle filed two legal actions against the ticket broker in King County Superior Court: one on behalf of ticket buyers (a class-action complaint requesting a jury trial), the other on behalf of 16 event producers (petitioning the court to appoint a general receiver to seize BPT’s assets).
The ticket buyers say they purchased tickets through BPT’s website but were unable to use them due to COVID-related event postponements or cancellations, and BPT has not refunded them. The event producers say in their court petition that they are each a “small performing arts group, community cultural group or entertainer” that entered into an agreement for BPT to sell tickets to their events, and that BPT’s “failure to pay the ticket proceeds to them has caused severe financial hardship and continuing potentially irreparable damage.”
Neither Brown Paper Tickets nor the law firms filing the complaints, nor the Washington state Attorney General’s Office, which has been looking into complaints about BPT, immediately responded to requests for comment.
For 20 years, the Seattle company acted as a virtual box office that helped theaters, musicians, and community groups around the country — and, in recent years, around the world — sell their tickets to the public. Its relatively modest service fees ($0.99 plus 5% of each ticket) made it a popular ticket broker for small- to mid-sized theaters and community organizations.
When the coronavirus hit and events of all kinds were suddenly suspended, BPT said it was not able to immediately refund money — not to customers who bought tickets to the canceled events, nor to event producers whose events were canceled. Some producers whose events happened as planned, before the COVID shutdown, are also waiting for their box-office money.
In March, BPT founder and president William Scott Jordan said the company had lost control of its cash flow in the flurry of canceled and postponed events so suddenly shut down outgoing payments to everyone — including producers whose events took place before the coronavirus shutdowns.
“We lost control over which payments were able to clear and which weren’t,” he said. “And we managed to piss off everybody.”
Six months later, the ticket broker still has a lot of unhappy, unpaid customers — between March 19 and Sept. 4, a database with the Washington state Attorney General’s Office has logged 489 complaints against BPT. The majority of those complaints are listed as “closed” without having recovered any of the complainants’ money.
“The million-dollar question is: Where is the money that they collected from our shows?” Michael Granato, owner of Bistro Romano, a Philadelphia restaurant and dinner theater, had asked back in April.
According to the class-action complaint and the request for a general receiver to take BPT’s assets filed last month, that question hasn’t been answered yet.