The refunding of nearly 750,000 tickets to Michael Jackson's 50-show London concert run is going to be an extremely complex and probably messy process.
But that's only the beginning of the headaches for promoter AEG Live, which stands to lose millions of dollars because of the pop icon's death and will need to scramble to find another act to fill its O2 Arena in London.
The promoter and the primary and secondary ticket vendors are expected to refund money to all fans who purchased tickets for the show, making it hard, depending on AEG Live's insurance policy, for the company to recoup the estimated $40 million it spent to book Jackson and promote the event.
"It's a complex and messy situation, and it has to be resolved quickly, as I understand it, by U.K. law," Ray Waddell, senior editor of touring for Billboard, told ABCNews.com this morning. "It would be bad enough if it were just straight up ticket sales through Ticketmaster, but a significant portion of these sales were through the 'secondary' or resale market as producer/promoter AEG Live partnered with UK reseller Viagogo on these dates."
Tickets to see Jackson's first solo concert tour in 12 years sold out quickly -- with fans around the world snagging seats at the rate of 40,000 an hour. Roughly $85 million worth of tickets were sold. The tickets had a face value of $80 to $125 but were reselling for much more.
VIP tickets -- called the Thriller Package -- were on sale for up to $1,300 and included a champagne reception, seats close to the front and an after-show party.
"These secondary tickets are typically priced much higher than face value. So somebody has to track down each reseller, each buyer and coordinate the refund transaction," Waddell said in an e-mail. "Adding to this is the fact that tickets were purchased from a global market, though the overwhelming bulk were in the U.K. When you throw in the large number of VIP, premium and travel packages associated with this run, it's a mess."
While AEG Live is known to have taken out insurance to cover the millions spent to book and promote at least some of the concerts, the sudden nature of Jackson's death could put any payouts in jeopardy, particularly if his death is ruled to be drug- or alcohol-related.
The concert series -- dubbed "This Is It" -- was scheduled to start July 13. It was to be the longest single engagement event ever, breaking records for attendance and, of course, profit.
Fans who bought their tickets to the shows directly should be able to get full refunds. For those who bought them through another vendor, the picture is murkier. Credit card companies also offer some level of protections to fans.
A representative of AEG Live, which owns the O2 arena, could not be reached for comment but the company said on its Web site that "A further announcement for ticket holders will be made in due course."
A Ticketmaster customer service line in London said: "Ticketmaster is aware of the news relating to Michael Jackson. We have no official information at this stage. As soon as we have any information we will immediately contact all customers who have booked tickets through Ticketmaster."