Picture this – for three days the musical heroes of my youth were to belt out cheesy 80s pop classics under an azure Illawarra sky. A little paunchier and a little balder perhaps, like me, but at least they’ve made the effort to come all the way to Wollongong. Children frolick in the grass nearby, while adults sip wine and laugh at what they wore 25 years ago.
Except, oh no, what’s this? The event has changed? It’s being moved from a field on the South Coast to the Hordern Pavillion in Sydney? It’s two days instead of three? Half the acts aren’t playing? And, what, there are no refunds? How can this be?
These are the questions hundreds of ticket holders asked of the promoters of the Rewind Festival when they announced their plans for a revised “festival” - at the same time making it clear that only those who had bought camping tickets would be eligible for a refund. Anyone who wanted their money back for the simple reason that they had bought tickets to a three-day outdoor festival in the Illawarra not a two-day indoor concert in Sydney were out of luck.
Facebook is a double-edged sword for businesses. Many have pages promoting their offerings, but it’s just as easy for disgruntled consumers to use it too.
And duly the festival’s Facebook page went into meltdown as angry punters – myself included - bemoaned the poor organisational skills of the promoters, the reasons for the move, and the legitimacy of their births in some cases.
Some ticket holders contacted NSW Fair Trading, prompting the watchdog to launch an investigation. An enterprising Facebooker even set up a Rewind Ticket Refunds page. Others posted the promoters’ mobile numbers so people could express their unhappiness more directly.
According to Live Performance Australia, the peak body that covers concert promoters, venue owners and ticket sellers, their code of conduct is voluntary. While Moshtix, who sold the tickets in the first place, is a member of Live Performance, the promoters are not. It remains to be seen whether the promoters will listen to their consciences and do the decent thing.
Judging by the belligerent nature of their responses so far, it seems unlikely.
I’ve heard that people with access to the promoters have tried to persuade them that refunds are the only decent thing, that they may have broken consumer law and - given the demographic of the crowd at an 80s festival - they are likely to face action. They seem determined to resist though.
And while Live Performance’s code of conduct may be voluntary, the lady at NSW Fair Trading told me that “consumers purchasing tickets for entertainment are also protected by the consumer guarantees provided under the Australian Consumer Law”.
She added that Fair Trading is “looking into this matter and is making enquiries with the promoter of the Rewind Festival. Consumers who are dissatisfied with the changes to the event or are unable to travel to the new venue are advised to contact NSW Fair Trading.”
And the angry Facebook mob has yet to dissipate. As long as we stick together and continue to agitate, we may yet win the Battle of Wollongong. We have to talk to our lawyer friends, talk to our banks, post blogs, email the show’s corporate sponsors - even the artists and UK owners of Rewind.
But most importantly of all, we must lodge complaints with NSW Fair Trading on 13 32 20 and exercise our rights as consumers.
I know I will be.
This just in...
Shortly after publishing we received this response from Fair Trading:
Fair Trading Minister Anthony Roberts is urging dissatisfied ticketholders to contact Fair Trading on 13 32 20 following a decision by the Australian organisers of the Rewind 80s Festival to relocate the event from Wollongong to Sydney.
Mr Roberts said Fair Trading has received 36 complaints since the announcement from disappointed fans that have been left disillusioned and out-of-pocket.
“Consumers purchased tickets to a two-day outdoor festival at the Blue Scope Fields in Kembla Grange featuring around 25 acts now find themselves attending a downsized indoor event at the Sydney Hordern Pavilion,” he said.
“It’s nearly 100 kilometres away from where they thought it would be when they purchased the tickets.
“Many consumers will now have to arrange accommodation and organise transport.
“Simply put, it is no longer the same event and consumers should be given the option of a full refund.”
Mr Roberts said he was alarmed by reports that the organisers are refusing to refund ticket sales even though the event has undergone such fundamental scheduling changes.
“I find the organiser’s position to be very disappointing and I have instructed Fair Trading to pull out all stops to assist ticket holders who want a refund,” he said.
“Fair Trading officers are working hard to resolve this issue for consumers as soon as possible.”
Mr Roberts said Fair Trading has commenced an investigation using its powers under the Australian Consumer Law and it has been working closely with the festival’s authorised ticket seller Moshtix.
“It is estimated that thousands of tickets have been sold to this event and I urge all dissatisfied consumers to assist Fair Trading with its investigation by lodging a complaint as soon as possible,” he said.
Update 17/10 - Rewind Festival cancelled
Well it seems like all the pressure has paid off. The Rewind Festival has been cancelled and refunds will be given to all.
We may never know whether it was pressure from punters on Facebook, pressure from the Fair Trading Minister or the absence of acts who began to pull out in the wake of the uproar, that tipped the promoters over the edge. But whatever the final straw, it is unlikely any money would have been returned had it not been for consumers deciding that they weren't going to put up with being treated in such a shonky manner and refusing to let the issue lie.
Score one to consumer activism. Well done everyone.