The Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games attracted a reported 234,243 people to the Kentucky Horse Park during the first week, including a record 50,000-plus on cross country day for eventing. It is difficult to know whether those numbers are good or bad because there have been no similar events on American soil for comparison. It also is hard to know for certain how many people actually paid to get in because the figures are padded a bit by including volunteers, media, and students who received complimentary tickets in the daily count. And rumor has it that anyone with a valid credential of any kind now can watch an event from the unoccupied seats at the venue.

What is clear is that attendance and ticket sales are running below the original, and probably generously optimistic, estimates. A few events have been sold out, but some empty seats are the rule rather than the exception. One result is that prices for tickets have been slashed. A 30-per-cent discount was offered on tickets several weeks ago, and unsold tickets for the next day’s competition now are being offered at half-price the night before. The idea makes sense from an organizer’s point of view—bringing a spectator to the event is better than an empty seat, even if the ticket was not purchased for full price.

A similar plan allows theater goers in New York to buy half-price tickets at kiosks in Times Square on the day of a show. While in New York for a writers’ conference a few months ago I purchased a full-price ticket to see The Addams Family on Broadway. The ticket cost more, but going directly to the box office was more convenient than waiting in line for hours at the discount kiosk and I knew I would have a guaranteed seat in case the musical did sell out.

The problem with the bargain-ticket scheme is the public’s perception of things. Many people purchased full-price packages for the Games as soon as they went on sale, spurred on by predictions that all the available tickets would be snapped up quickly. That did not happen, and some of the people who paid full price early on feel cheated because buyers who dawdled at the start now are getting bargain-priced admissions to all but the most popular events.

The Lexington Herald-Leader, which has done a good job of covering the Games so far, talked to one visitor who paid full price for her tickets and now wants a refund because of subsequent reductions in price. While her frustration is understandable, a refund is not likely to happen.

A legal concept called "fair market value" says that an item is worth whatever it would bring when there is a willing seller and a willing buyer. The emphasis is on "fair." When tickets for the Games first went on sale, willing buyers paid face value established by willing sellers. That was the fair market value of the tickets then and buyers cannot complain after the fact. The same ticket might be worth less today, when there are fewer willing buyers and sellers are open to price cuts, but that does not mean that full-price buyers are entitled to a refund. The same is true across the board. The buyer of a best seller for the hardcover price does not get a refund when the book comes out in paperback, or if the title shows up on the remainder table.

Tickets to the Games come with a lengthy legal disclaimer printed in tiny type on the back that includes a provision for refunds only in a few very limited circumstances. Those conditions include cancellation of the event if the ticketholder is not given the option to attend a rescheduled or similar event within 12 months. Availability of the same or similar tickets for a discounted price, or for free, at a later date is not one of the conditions requiring a refund of the purchase price by the seller. In other words, you pay your money and you take your chance.

Being required by law to refund a portion of the full price ticket is one thing; doing so voluntarily because a refund is good public relations is another.

Should the organizers of the Games refund the difference between full and discounted prices for tickets purchased far in advance, even if they are not required by law to do so?