More than 750,000 Michael Jackson fans can get full refunds for the pop star's canceled 50-night "This is It" concert extravaganza — or opt to receive souvenir tickets instead, the promoters announced Monday.
In a move that could help recoup some of its losses from the ill-fated tour, Los Angeles-based AEG Live said fans could choose to receive the actual tickets, which it said feature graphics "inspired and designed" by Jackson himself.
Images of the tickets, complete with a 3-D effect, can be viewed on the Web site www.MichaelJacksonLive.com beginning Wednesday, AEG said in a statement. Fans have until Aug. 14 to take the ticket offer.
For those opting for a refund, all service charges paid to authorized ticket sellers will be included, the statement said.
Fans spent more than $90 million on tickets, which were priced between $82 and $124, though some went for hundreds of dollars on Internet auction sites.
AEG Live may be counting on die-hard fans to want to hold onto their tickets as bittersweet reminders of what might have been — or to cash in later should they become collector's items. Many did just that after Elvis Presley died in 1977.
Elliott Parkin, a 27-year-old construction worker, said his friends plan to keep their tickets to honor Jackson.
"He'll be remembered for his music above all else," said Parkin, who had planned to attend one of the London shows. "His funeral will be bigger than Diana's."
Jackson's death has left AEG Live, which operates the 02 Arena where the pop star was to have performed, with a colossal problem.
In addition to the money taken in by ticket sales, which must be refunded, the company had already paid Jackson millions and spent millions more getting ready for the planned July 13 premiere — not to mention that one of the city's biggest arenas has been left with 50 open nights.
The skirmishing over refunds and open bookings is just one aspect of what is likely to be years of legal wrangling over financial matters, including Jackson's considerable debts, assets and custody of his three children. The battles are likely to dwarf earlier fights for the control of assets left by other departed rock gods, including guitar hero Jimi Hendrix and reggae trailblazer Bob Marley.
Promoters are generally required to take out insurance to cover concert cancellations or non-appearances, said Malcolm Tarling, a spokesman for the Association of British Insurers.
Many of the policies are extremely specific, allocating levels of payouts according to the reason for the cancellation — including the cause of any death. If a drug overdose was specified as a risk with lower coverage, AEG may be entitled to less money.
Much of the company's ability to weather the financial storm caused by Jackson's demise may depend on how much of its losses are covered by insurance.
And that will be determined in part by what the Los Angeles County coroner's office finally determines as the cause of the mega-star's death. Officials have warned it will be up to six weeks before a cause of death can be pinpointed because complicated toxicology tests are needed.
AEG Live has so far been tightlipped about the amount of insurance coverage it had for the concerts and which companies were the underwriters. Insurance market Lloyd's of London says its member corporations underwrote some policies, but said AEG likely had multiple contracts, with several insurers all taking on a portion of the risk.
Bart Nash, a spokesman for Lloyd's, said a number of different policies were written to cover the Jackson concerts, each with different clauses that could be affected by the all important "cause of death" determination.
"These things are written into the policies, and each one is different, and these types of contracts are so complex that different issues affect different policies," he said.
That is a recipe for a series of lawsuits that could easily take years to resolve.
Nash said, for example, that some policies would pay out differently if the artist's death was due to a pre-existing medical condition or if any medical negligence were found. "There are so many variables in the policies and all these little things matter," he said.
It is also likely the coroner's determination on whether drugs played a role in Jackson's death could affect insurance payments.
While these issues are being worked out, eBay executives extended a buyer protection program to cover anyone who bought a ticket through the company's Web site.
"You'll be covered for the full amount of the transaction, not just the face value of the ticket," eBay spokeswoman Jenny Thomas said Monday. That means people who paid three or four times the face value for a chance to see Jackson should get all their money back.
She said the company has not yet worked out details, including whether the company or the ticket sellers would ultimately be responsible for refunds.
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