A lifelong San Francisco 49ers fan has sued the NFL for $50 million over not being allowed to purchase a ticket to the NFC Championship Game in Seattle between his 49ers and the host Seahawks. Claiming “economic damages” he wants $40 million plus $10 million as punishment. This man, Las Vegas, Nevada resident John Williams III, spoke his mind, according to NPR:
They’re always boasting up there about their 12th player and everything else, but by allowing the NFL to decide who can or cannot attend the games, you make it an unfair game. Seattle fixed it.
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.
The basis for Williams’ argument is that, since the NFL gets public assistance to build stadiums–and does not pay income tax, since it is a non-profit–the NFL should not be allowed to selectively sell tickets. Rather, he states, all games across the NFL, regardless of location, should be sold on a first-come-first-serve basis.
As wonderful as that might sound, one would also have to think about all of the Seahawks fans that would find their way down to Candlestick–and, in fact, do. Furthermore, the practice of limiting sales to certain zip codes is definitely not limited to the Seahawks organization. It is commonly used to avoid mass purchasing by one individual for distribution on the secondary market in addition to, of course, boosting the number of relative home fans in attendance.
Should the NFL have some sort of policy regarding the availability of tickets to opposing fans? As many of you know, I recently was in England and had the good fortune to see a few Premier League soccer matches. The way the stands work in the Premier League is as follows: A small section is always quartered off from the rest of the stadium–different concessions, different bathrooms, different stairs, and walls and security in between the 10-15 percent of away fans and the home fans. You can be thrown out of the stadium for wearing the wrong colors in the wrong section–that is, if you are not knocked out first. They may ensure that a portion of the seats is filled with visitors, but the amount of violence and passion that comes out of fans makes the Seahawks-49ers rivalry seem like two usually friendly individuals who are upset because one misplaced the crumpets.
My point? Ticket free-for-alls aren’t always great, because then one person can buy up all the tickets to a big game and hike the prices even further into the stratosphere. Guaranteed tickets for visitors is something that is not in the NFL or American sports tradition, and while it might sound nice in theory, it also has the potential to create stronger divisions and lead to the same sorts of social problems that arise in Britain. You may have a Seahawks fan for a boss, but at least you guys likely do not let your allegiances bother your workplace relationship.
I would be surprised if this lawsuit goes very far and, though I think it was an annoying trick on the Seahawks’ end, limiting ticket sales was a perfectly legitimate thing to do.