Subscribers cry foul over GAA live match service

Readers’ Queries: With Gaelic games called off this year, GAAGO has offered extensions

 

We have queries from Colombia and London this week in connection with a most Irish operation.

Unless you are an expat or a GAA fan who has spent some time living overseas since 2014, GAAGO may not have crossed your radar. It is a subscription service set up by RTÉ and the GAA aimed at an international market and the Irish diaspora. In a good year, it features more than 100 live and on-demand games as well as all sorts of documentaries and an archive of classic games.

However, at risk of stating the obvious, 2020 has not been a good year.

David Clancy paid €56 for the service on February 16th this year. Within a few weeks – on March 9th – he says GAAGO “stopped providing the service I paid for. No live matches were shown after this date.”

On March 12th he got an email from the service confirming that all GAA was to suspended until the end of March. A few days later he contacted the service to find out what would be happening as there were no games scheduled.

He says he was told “there would be a fair and practical resolution”.

Then on March 27th, he received a mail saying GAAGO had opted to pause his subscription. “On April 23rd as it became clear the season would not resume, particularly the Munster/Leinster hurling championships, I asked for a refund and was told that GAAGO would make a fair decision in regards to annual pass subscriptions and what the best form of action will be.”

In the middle of July he got an email saying his annual pass would be extended by three months from February of next year to the end of May.

He wasn’t happy with that at all and on July 17th he asked for a refund with an explanation as to why he believed a refund was due.

“The extension would provide no value as there are few matches between March and May, and there will be fewer matches this season due to the curtailment of the championships.”

He was told that because he had used the service to watch free content in recent months, which they claim is worth up to €90, “I could not have a refund and they would not have any further communication with me on the matter”.

“This is not the service I signed up for and is not the fair and practical resolution I was led to believe would occur. I don’t want to accept this downgrade of the service, which would mean fewer top- level matches, and more lower level games to end-May 2021. I have not accessed any of their services since I was informed of the extension except to raise support tickets to complain. As I have not received the services as promised, I would like a refund of €56 from GAAGO.

Next up was Declan Carey from Colombia. “I have been based overseas and will be returning permanently in September,” his mail starts. “I have availed of the annual pass for the GAAGO platform while abroad to enjoy the All-Ireland series. While the platform offers other things such as historical repeats, it is clear that the driver of the platform is the enjoyment of key games over the summer and this is reflected in the pricing,” he says, pointing out that the price per game increases as one gets closer to the All-Ireland finals.

“It is suggested that the annual pass is more cost-effective as one can enjoy more of these high-profile games at an affordable price. Given the unique circumstances this year with Covid, I had assumed GAAGO would be contacting all subscribers to make some adjustment to recognise the impact of the lost games and new timing,” he writes.

“This would be consistent with the insurers’ approach to car insurance and the GAA itself, which has offered adjustments to people who had purchased season tickets to see the games in person. I was therefore surprised when, after contacting GAAGO, they advised no adjustment/discount/refund would be offered.”

He says they seem to be treating people who paid the see the games in person differently from those who paid to see the games on television.

“I haven’t been able to make any progress with GAAGO, so any effort you could make to pressure them to change this unreasonable approach to discriminate against Irish people based overseas would be appreciated.”

So we got in touch with RTÉ who put us in touch with GAAGO. A spokesman said that the GAA had first announced the suspension of all activity on March 12th – initially until March 29th. The suspension was subsequently extended on a number of occasions in line with updated government policy.

“This uncertainty created great uncertainty for sports organisations and in turn for GAAGO and its customers. We paused all payments falling due from subscription renewals and instalments in late March [and] communicated this change to all subscribers and while we weren’t yet in a position to establish an appropriate level of compensation, we promised to ‘take a fair and practical view of the situation at the appropriate time’. Please note that we issued refunds to customers who had renewed subscriptions during March before the pause was in place, even where they were outside our normal refund window; we were not trying to profit from the situation.”

He said that once a return to live action was confirmed, “we started considering what a fair approach would mean in practice. In doing this, we took into account purchase dates, the product purchased, prospective renewal timings, and the GAA calendar itself (this year and next year) and generated a number of subscriber groups with similar circumstances, eg ‘have mostly received pass value’, ‘recently renewed, therefore not much value received yet’ etc. By offering a mix of pass extensions and discounts on renewals, we believe we took a fair approach for each customer group.”

He said the vast majority of customers had been happy with the approach. “We take our customer service seriously and recognise that there will be exceptions, which is why we always try to treat each situation uniquely. We know from feedback that not every service does this, and we’ve frequently put in significant effort into particular customer cases to find a satisfactory solution. This helps us build a good reputation among the expat community, and to retain customers, which thankfully we do well.”

He added that the both of these cases had been discussed before we made contact. “In one case, we don’t feel that a user who wasn’t entitled to a refund pre-Covid should suddenly become entitled to one afterwards, as the service is being delivered as promised, albeit on a different timescale due to extraordinary factors outside of our control. As a conciliatory gesture, though, we agreed to a further extension (beyond what we originally felt was a fair resolution), as evidently that particular customer was not satisfied with the original 3.5-month extension.

“The other case has already been resolved once it got escalated upwards. Our initial response should have been better and we have discussed this as a team and learned from it. Again, we made a goodwill gesture to resolve this issue to the customer’s satisfaction.”

That all seems fair enough to us.

Voucher better than nothing for cancelled flight

David Langan sent us a query in connection with Aer Lingus that he wondered if we had previously focused on. He bought a ticket with Aer Lingus on December 16th, 2019 to fly from Dublin to LAX return on March 26th, returning six days later.

“On March 18th I received an email from Aer Lingus offering a change of flight or a voucher. At that time I applied for a voucher. I, like many people at the time hoped that the virus situation would not last too long and I would book the flight in summer this year. Aer lingus did not offer money back at that time.”

He said that since then he has not received the voucher from Aer Lingus. “I did contact them two days ago and they said it is being processed. I asked for my money back and they said I could not have that . I said, well, they don’t fly to LAX now and either way I can’t go because of the rules from the State Department with Irish passport holders. Aer Lingus said the flight I had originally booked did operate and voucher was all I could get.”

He says that after he got off the call with Aer Lingus he remembered that when he had requested the voucher in March the visa restrictions were in place in the USA, “so even if I went up to the Aer Lingus desk to take the flight I would not have been be able to due to the visa restrictions. I know it is outside Aer Lingus’s control that the visa situation changed, but it is fundamental to being able to take the flight. Do you think I am entitled to my money back or do I just have to wait for the voucher? “

We do know the answer to this question but it won’t make for happy reading for David or any other reader in a similar position. The bottom line, as it has become all too clear in recent months, is that airlines are only responsible for ferrying people from A to B. They have no role in ensuring passengers are actually permitted to travel or have the requisite visa or paperwork in place other than to not let them board in the absence of those visas or passports. It is, ultimately, the passenger’s responsibility to ensure everything is in order before they show up at the boarding gate.

So, even though US rules have prohibited Irish citizens from entering the US in recent months, Aer Lingus – and indeed all other airlines – were able to wash their hands of the problem. If they flew the planes and people were not able to board, they were viewed as no-shows. Aer Lingus actually deserves a bit of credit – not something we have said often in recent times – because it could simply have regarded this reader as a no-show and refused to offer him anything by way of comfort. The long and the short of it is the voucher is probably the best he can hope for, and the good news – if we can call it that – is that the voucher has an expiry limit of five years.

Ferry tale with no happy ever after

“I’d to draw your attention to my experience with Brittany Ferries. It is not just the airlines that are proving difficult to deal with at the current time,” a mail from Trevor Sheahan begins ominously. “I had a booking to travel with my family on the Cork-Roscoff ferry on the second weekend of July. I had paid a 50 per cent deposit and was due to pay the second instalment by May 12th.”

Three days before then he sent a message to the company that he would not be travelling based on the advice of government and requesting that the final payment on the reservation not be taken.

“I received a response from a named representative on May 11th that the final payment would not be taken and that my card details were being deleted. I was satisfied with this as I understood (and still believe) that this constituted an acceptance of my request,” he continues.

Then on June 5th he received an email from Brittany Ferries to say that they were having trouble collecting the second portion of the ticket price. “As I had already received a written reply acceding to my earlier request I considered the issue dealt with in respect of the booking. I didn’t read the email in detail as I considered it didn’t apply to me. There was a line at the bottom of the email to which I will return to later,” he says.

Then, on June 30th, he contacted Brittany Ferries by email to enquire about options such as vouchers for the money already paid, since the Government advice was still not to travel abroad unless necessary.

“I received, that afternoon, an email with a ‘cancellation invoice’ attached. The cancellation fee being the full sum of the initial deposit paid – €591. I immediately responded stating that I had not requested a cancellation, and requested that the cancellation be reversed and my request re vouchers be addressed.”

A day later he received a reply which stated that he had been contacted on June 5th to say payment was due and that, as he had not made the payment, his booking had been cancelled and his deposit forfeit. He was also told there was no entitlement to any voucher.

“I then read the email of June 5th in detail. This mail requested payment of the outstanding balance and a confirmation from me that I still wished to travel. At the bottom of the email was a line stating that if payment was not received by 8th June, then they would consider that I did not wish to travel with them and they would cancel the booking. As I had already told Brittany Ferries on May 9th that I would not be travelling, that I did not wish to pay the second portion of the ticket price and as they had acceded to that request, it is still clear to me that this email was not relevant to me. When I contacted Brittany Ferries on June 30th, it was still open to me to make a change to my travel arrangements as per the terms and conditions of my original booking, given that this booking was still live when I sent the mail.”

He replied to the mail telling his story. “I also suggested that from a commercial perspective it made sense to issue me with vouchers as this would require me to spend more money in order to secure a booking for my family and that I was prepared to make such a booking immediately for 2021.

In the middle of last month he was told that it was impossible for Brittany Ferries to accommodate his request as he had not responded to the June 5th mails and as such the booking was auto cancelled on June 30th.

He says he does have insurance “and so I will not suffer any significant financial loss as a result of this episode. However, I live in Cork and as I would never consider Brittany Ferries again, now I will need to travel to Rosslare or Dublin if I wish to take a ferry.”

We contacted the ferry company but it had nothing by way of comfort for our reader and appeared unconcerned by his determination never to use its services again.

This is the statement we received in full. “For the selected ticket type, we clearly outline that a deposit of 50 per cent of the price is payable upon booking, with the balance due 60 days before travel. The booking terms & conditions also clearly outline that if the balance on a booking isn’t paid by this time, then the booking will be cancelled and the relevant cancellations charges outlined in our terms and conditions will be applied.

“We have been very clear with our customers as to the different options available to them if they choose not to avail of sailings that are still going ahead. When payment of the balance was not received by the date advised, the booking at this point was no longer live in the system. Our customer service teams have been dealing with thousands of bookings and at all times we advise our customers to carefully read all correspondence.”