July 30, 2014

How far can NFL teams go to keep “away” fans away?

NFLShieldCould the Browns someday work to eliminate Steelers fans from Browns games? Wouldn’t that be sweet? Could they only sell tickets to fans who live in a certain area? Those two questions will be answered soon, it would appear, thanks to a lawsuit filed by a 49ers fan against the Seattle Seahawks.

I’m fascinated by this lawsuit. On the one hand, I get that the Seahawks really wanted to keep their stadium filled with Seahawks fans for their playoff game against the 49ers. It’s understandable in a playoff environment where you know a game is going to sell out. But even though it makes sense to me, did it violate any laws?

“The practice of withholding the sale of tickets from the public at large and allowing only credit card holders limited to certain areas is a violation of the Federal Consumer Fraud Act and/or common law,” according to the lawsuit filed April 15.

In the case of January’s game, the Seahawks limited ticket sales only to credit cards with addresses in the states of Washington, Oregon, Montana, Idaho, Alaska and Hawaii, as well as the Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Alberta.

I’m not a lawyer, so I don’t have much of an opinion on how this should turn out, but I’m interested nonetheless. Also brought into the equation for the fan, John E. Williams III, is the NFL’s reliance on public subsidies and money from taxpayers to build stadiums. I’m not sure if that helps or hurts his cause though, because public subsidies and taxpayers are garnered locally to build that stadium.

The future of the 12th man isn’t exactly hanging in the balance. Regardless of the outcome, I’m guessing Seattle’s homefield advantage will remain substantial whenever the team is good. Still, it will be interesting to see if this new territory in ticketing is legal or not.

Recently, the Columbus Blue Jackets did something similar for their playoff opener against the Pittsburgh Penguins. They restricted credit card sales to Ohio in an effort to pack the house with hometown fans. Pittsburgh has often had a very sizable Penguins crowd when playing in Columbus.

[Related: Tribe weekend wrap: swept away in San Francisco]

  • boomhauertjs

    After having to sit in front of Ravens fans’ carrying an “RIP Art” sign in 2012, I’m all in favor of anything to keep opposing fans out of the Factory of Sadness.

  • nobody

    The problem with that in Cleveland is the team has been bad for so long, there’d be a lot of local blackouts by limiting sales to Ohio. The opposing fans are the people keeping Browns Stadium a sellout.

  • boomhauertjs

    Good point.

  • guy

    During the regular season Nationwide Arena would be filled with more Pittsburgh fans than Columbus fans. It was embarrassing. It’s great to see more CBJ fans there during the playoffs.

  • Natedawg86

    That and the dumb steeler fans that go to browns games wearing their gear even when CLE is not playing PIT

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    This is one of the dumbest things ever I’m sorry. Who cares who someone else roots for if the travel to your city and spend money in your town you should be happy. I gave up this sort of fandom when I was 16 and my acne cleared up and girls noticed me noticing them!

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Um if they didn’t show up during the playoffs then something would be really wrong!

  • Ezzie Goldish

    Thought this was interesting as soon as I saw it.

    That said, worth keeping in mind:
    1) The guy suing is a promoter in the entertainment industry.
    2) In theory, a private company can choose who they want to sell to and how.
    3) The argument he makes is that because they rely on public subsidies, they shouldn’t be able to disallow the public from buying, which is a bit of a jump [note: I'm not a lawyer!] to me, and
    3b) Most of those public subsidies come from local taxes, such as the one up for a vote in CLE, which seems to undermine his point a bit.

    That said, still interesting, and I’d love to hear someone who knows this section of law comment.

  • The_Real_Shamrock
  • BenRM

    “In theory, a private company can choose who they want to sell to and how.”

    I would say this is probably more untrue than true. The whole “where does it end” thing gets pretty important here. Won’t sell to certain fans? People from another state or city? People from another religion? Black people? (Hey, Donald Sterling!)

  • CBI

    Wonder how many MLB execs read about this lawsuit, leaned back in their chairs, and dreamt about having this problem.

  • MrCleaveland

    Trying to keep visitors’ fans away is so fricking lame. Are the Seattle players that fragile? I think not.

    What’s next, kicking out fans who boo the home team?

    Jeez, man up fer cripes sake.

    .

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I would think the Seattle players wouldn’t mind it’d be extra motivation if anything.

  • MrCleaveland

    In 1969, defending national champ and undefeated No. 1 Ohio State went up to Ann Arbor to face the 6-2 Weasels. UM athletic director Don Canham had unsold tickets to unload, and so he sold them to Ohio State fans.

    The day after the Rodents’ epic upset of our boys brave and true, new coach Bo lit into Canham, telling the AD that he didn’t ever want him to sell tickets to the enemy again. And Canham took a puff of his cigar and said, “Coach, after yesterday, I won’t have to.”

  • nj0

    2.) Not true at all. See the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

    All persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, and privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation, as defined in this section, without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin.

  • Ezzie Goldish

    I know the Act, just not sure it applies quite like that.

  • Hopwin

    Limiting credit card sales to just Ohio by the BJs was clearly just an anti-fraud measure. I mean seriously what bank in their right mind would give a credit card to a Pittsburgh resident? Even PNC won’t touch those people with a 40 foot pole.

  • nj0

    True, but just responding to your original point. Private companies do have obvious rules dictating who they sell to and how. I’m not quite sure what this Federal Consumer Fraud Act they speak of is though. Only thing I can find comparable is related to telecommunications – basically phone solicitation.

  • Hopwin

    Unless they said no asian-black-jews from Norway (or some other such combination of factors of RACE, COLOR, RELIGION or NATIONAL ORIGIN) then it doesn’t apply.

  • nj0

    Again, I understand that. But the original point “A private company can choose who they want to sell to and how” is completely incorrect. I was just providing one obvious example.

  • saggy

    One word: SOCCER.

    visiting fans are designated the area behind one of the goal mouths. Other visiting fans can bravely sit anywhere else their little hearts desire, while having to fend for themselves for 90 minutes, plus extra-time. Guards/police/military (depending on how serious the rivalry) usually line the stair columns dissecting the visitors’ seats from the home supporters to dissuade provocations.

    Seems pretty simple to me.

  • Inglourious Bradford

    I vote yes. Problem is that you cannot do anything about the after market ticket sales.

  • Garry_Owen

    In the midst of everyone denying that they are lawyers, I would like to state the following:

    I am a lawyer.

  • Garry_Owen

    Was that the same time that girls started avoiding you like the plague?

    [I kid!]