PHILADELPHIA — Barrett Scheffler hopped in his Mazda CX-5 on Friday morning in Columbus, Ohio, halfway through a road trip to Philadelphia to see a football game. It was, at the time, two days away.
In Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, Stacey Koneski readied her midnight-green paraphernalia. In Arizona, Jamie Barmach and his teenage children boarded a flight. In Newark, New Jersey, fresh off a red-eye from Los Angeles via Vegas, Reza Perl picked up a rental car. In Houston, on the verge of his first trip to Philly after decades of Eagles fandom, Esteban Pizzolo buzzed with excitement.
They and hundreds like them had planned this weekend months ago, around an NFL game that, in some cases, would be their first. They spent thousands of dollars on tickets and travel, on hotels and Airbnbs, on tailgate plans and a Sunday of fun. They’d taken off work. They’d promised to make up hours on Christmas. They’d left newborns with spouses, and dogs with in-laws, and worries at home. They felt assured, by a July memo promising no NFL postponements “absent medical considerations,” that their pilgrimage would be worthwhile.
Now they’re “f***cking pissed,” “disappointed,” even “heartbroken” because they checked out of hotels on Monday, and boarded return flights, and began 13-hour drives. And the game they came to see, between the Eagles and Washington?
It didn’t happen as scheduled.
They know they aren’t alone in their anger. “Everybody’s mad,” Pizzolo acknowledged, about the postponement of Sunday’s game to Tuesday because of a COVID-19 outbreak in Washington. They, the fans, know this is a complicated situation wrought by an uncontrollable virus. They know that foiled plans are minor inconveniences amid mass upheaval, sickness and death.
— Jamie Barmach (@barmach) December 17, 2021
They’re just vexed that they — nurses, educators, meat-packers, granite cutters, everyday people with everyday jobs and everyday problems — have to suffer and eat hundred-dollar losses when billion-dollar corporations could step in and take the hit. None of them can go to a rescheduled game on a weeknight in a faraway city. Even some locals can’t get off work in time for the 7 p.m. local kick. Yet neither Ticketmaster, the Eagles nor the NFL is offering refunds. StubHub waived sellback fees, but a depressed secondary market has offered little solace. (Ticketmaster, the Eagles and the NFL did not respond to questions about their refund policy.)
Some fans decided to swallow their sorrows and make the most of a weekend in Philly anyway. At least a few turned to Sunday’s NBA game between the Sixers and Pelicans as an alternative. That, too, got called off by COVID.
“Rough weekend,” Andrew Montgomery, one of those fans, said as he arrived at a stadium-adjacent entertainment complex, only to hear about the second postponement. He’d heard about the first hours after his overnight flight from L.A. landed.
He accepted his awful luck, but some fans didn’t. Most of their ire remains directed at the NFL and its ticketing partners. “Big business is still making their money,” said Mike Palazzo, a longtime Eagles follower from North Jersey who works two jobs, and who thought he’d finally found a window to drive down for a game. “But all the loyal fans, what do they get out of this?”
Said Pizzolo, who canceled his trip from Houston: “It's a lot of sacrifice for fans that are just trying to experience and support the team. It's not really fair. … They just screw the people.”
Getting bad news for Eagles-WFT
In Eastern Pennsylvania, from Philly over to Lancaster up to Scranton and beyond, for many, Eagles fandom is bred. It’s less a choice, more an inescapable facet of life — and one that Stacey Koneski has lived for 33 years. “Every single Sunday since I can remember,” she says, “we've had my whole family over the house for Eagles games, no matter the weather or what's going on.” Siblings, parents, nieces, nephews and friends gather. Mountains of food and beverage disappear.
But never, in those 33 years, had Koneski been to Lincoln Financial Field, or to Veterans Stadium, its predecessor. She sometimes had to work during Eagles games. She lived two hours away, and “never really had the extra cash to go” anyway.
That changed last week. A coworker unearthed tickets. Koneski and her boyfriend snapped them up for $400, and planned for a marvelous weekend. Her birthday was Saturday. On Sunday, they’d throw on jerseys and Eagles outerwear, arrive early in their seats right by the Eagles tunnel, and rejoice.
Before they could, troubling news started trickling in. Last Monday, five days after unvaccinated Washington defensive end Montez Sweat tested positive for COVID, the Football Team’s reserve/COVID-19 list swelled to eight. It added two more players on Tuesday, and eight more on Wednesday, and three more on Thursday. Koneski’s mom mentioned cancellation. “No, there's no way,” she thought.
But she began scouring the internet for news, especially after Washington starting QB Taylor Heinicke tested positive on Friday. Koneski checked Twitter. She scrolled Reddit.
On Friday afternoon around 2:30, she and so many others got what they feared.
Barrett Scheffler, an Eagles fan since 1989 who’d never been to Philly, got a Twitter alert in the passenger’s seat of his Mazda, on the final leg of his voyage from Illinois. “Oh, no,” he thought.
Andrew Montgomery was on a carriage ride, touring the city he’d adopted from afar, when reports began to swirl. His heart sank.
Perl, a Californian fan since the Donovan McNabb years, was at a downtown Philadelphia hotel. A friend’s flight from Texas was still in the air.
Jamie Barmach, an Arizona-based Eagles fan by blood, was descending toward Philadelphia International Airport when his 15-year-old son tapped him on the shoulder. A breaking news alert had flashed across ESPN on his seatback TV. The game had been postponed. His son was “crushed.” His daughter was, too.
— Jamie Barmach (@barmach) December 20, 2021
As phones blew up upon landing, they pleaded with Jamie: Could they stay through Tuesday?
The simple answer, he quickly realized, was no.
“It was not a fun Uber ride from the airport,” he says.
Costs adding up for NFL postponements
Some fans were able to back out of plans before full costs became sunk. In Houston, for Pizzolo, disappointment still stung. He and his brother had fallen in love with the Eagles shortly after moving to Texas from Argentina in the early 2000s. They identified with the fan base. Its passion reminded them of San Lorenzo, the soccer team they support back home. They engrossed themselves in American football culture. They connected with native Philadelphians on social media, and dreamed of the day they could join them at the Linc for a game.
Ever since the summer, they’d planned for Dec. 19 to be that day. They secured tickets, flights, a hotel, and a Monday off work. They envisioned parking-lot parties, and cheesesteaks, and Jalen Hurts jerseys just like Esteban’s, and a welcoming community that they were a part of.
On Friday, it all evaporated. They canceled bookings. They couldn’t afford to take multiple days off work, or to pay hundreds more dollars to extend their stay. And they fumed.
In Philly, Montgomery scrambled to phone airlines and his hotel, gauging the cost of staying two extra days. He learned that it’d be thousands, and gave up.
Out in the suburbs, Jonathan Nadu communicated with childhood friends who he’d planned to host for the weekend. With the game postponed, their reunion unraveled.
Scheffler, nearing the end of his long drive, thought about his dogs, and his fiancée’s mom, who was taking care of them; he thought about job responsibilities, and decided that he could’ve stayed for a Monday game, but not a Tuesday one.
Barmach explained to his kids that he had to get back for a work trip on Tuesday. He bought them Sixers tickets to compensate.
And Koneski? She works 8:30-4:30, and often longer, as a nurse, traveling around to group homes in the Wilkes-Barre area, checking on patients and their meds. Her boyfriend works nights. A 7 p.m. game on a Tuesday, especially with a simultaneous Philadelphia Flyers game creating horrid traffic, didn’t seem feasible.
After some deliberation, her boyfriend decided to take a night off. They’ll make the two-plus-hour drive after Koneski gets off work, and hopefully rush to their seats in time for kickoff.
Hundreds of others in similar situations, however, simply decided they were out of luck.
Searching for compensation
So they flocked to StubHub and elsewhere in search of compensation. Resale prices immediately plummeted, in some cases to the low $60s range — unheard of for a meaningful Eagles game. “It's a friggin Tuesday night,” Palazzo, the North Jersey fan, said. “So who the hell is gonna pay what I paid for the tickets?”
Some fans asked Ticketmaster for refunds. In most cases, they got a standard response saying their tickets were “still valid for the new date,” and that the “event organizer is not allowing refunds at this time.”
They weren’t happy. They tweeted angrily. Some know that their fandom, and the initial reactions of peeved Eagles players, influenced their opinion that the game never should have been postponed. Most are struggling to accept, though, that they’re out hundreds of dollars because of what they suspect was somebody else’s mistake.
Despite StubHub’s waiver of fees, Barmach sold his three tickets at a $161 loss. Scheffler took a $200 hit. Montgomery’s was over $400. Perl, whose group of seven initially paid over $1000 for tickets, put them up for far cheaper “to guarantee we would get some money back.” Pizzolo, who paid roughly $450 for a pair, still hasn’t been able to sell his.
“I guess the NFL said [postponement] won’t be a financial burden for the Eagles, as they get the money from the fans,” he said in a frustrated text message on Monday. “We fans are the only ones paying the price.”