Climate Pledge cuts hidden fee after Jesse Jones investigates

SEATTLE — When you go to a Storm game or concert at Climate Pledge Arena your dollar may only be worth 97 cents.

Climate Pledge is a cashless venue. And it is charging a 3% fee for almost all of the booze, nachos, and cookies you buy. In our investigation, we saw no signs or notifications on point-of-sale machines alerting consumers to the fee before a purchase is made.

A whistleblower who works at Climate Pledge Arena called to let Jesse Jones know what was going on.

We’ve hidden his identity, because he says he needs the job, “It’s a very shady business practice, I don’t understand why they’re doing it. It’s very greedy and it’s very disingenuous.”

He feels customers have a right to know if they are paying for something.

We checked his story by attending a Storm game and the Duran, Duran concert. We made purchases all around the stadium for both events and didn’t see any signs about the 3% fee. It also didn’t show up on the point-of-service device before the purchase. Only when we asked for a receipt, did we see a ‘transaction fee’ listed.

Our whistleblower told us receipts are only printed when it’s requested, “So, yeah, that’s how they’re getting away with it.”

Because Climate Pledge Arena is a cashless venue, there’s no getting around the fee. Even if you only have cash on hand, there’s a reverse ATM that will turn your green into a blue Visa card.

Kevin Brasler, with the non-Profit Puget Sound Consumer’s Checkbook, says vendors are required to display the price they’re charging.

“You can’t bake in some hidden fees and not tell people about it. In this case, they’re only telling people about it after they’ve paid and then gotten a receipt with this vague, transaction fee amount on it.”

He says if everyone must pay the extra 3% for whatever they buy, in effect is part of your price. And should be indicated on the menus.

There were places that did not charge the fee. The Amazon and Starbucks Just Walk Out stores did not. Neither did Din Tai Fung or Shaq’s Big Chicken. There are also no fees for merchandise.

Our whistleblower said when he went to management, “They replied that it was the Oak View Group’s decision to do that, and they happened to be the people that own the arena.”

Oak View Group owns Climate Pledge Arena, and we reached out to them about the 3% fee. In a statement we were told the fees began this spring for,”…certain general admission and club area food and beverage concessions during concerts and other non-Kraken events.”

They added that it’s not a transaction fee but rather an operational one to support expenses. By calling the 3% fee ‘operational’ and not a ‘transaction fee,’ the arena steers clear of Visa’s rules on charging fees to debit cards. The whistleblower says, “They knew. They knew what they were doing.”

As for the lack of disclosure? “We were recently made aware that while most receipts and points-of-sale showed the fee as intended, due to technical limitations, some did not.”

For context, we asked T-Mobile Park and Lumen Field management about charging added fees. Both say they do not. So why are Storm fans paying the fee?

We went back to the arena last week to see if there were any changes since we notified management. And, guess what? No fee.

A few days later, arena management sent an email saying after conducting an internal investigation into the issue, “We have decided to eliminate this fee altogether.”

We checked the prices of a couple of the items we purchased both before and after the fee.

This non-alcoholic beer was $8.99 before the fee. And 8.99 after. So at this point, there’s no change in prices.

Here’s the statement we got from Attorney General, Bob Ferguson on adding any fees: “Companies must clearly disclose all added fees and charges to Washingtonians. If you believe that a company has charged dishonest fees, please contact my office.”

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