Season Ticketholders Fumble and Return Tickets

Washington Redskins fans have fallen on hard times. With unemployment up and real estate down, many can no longer afford their football season tickets.

Several fans asked the Redskins to let them out of multiyear season ticket contracts. The team refused and then sued to enforce the contracts.

A Deal's a Deal

The Washington Post reported that over the past five years the Washington Redskins sued 125 fans to enforce multiyear ticket renewal agreements, for a total of $3.6 million. Many of those fans asked to be released from their ticket contracts due to unemployment and business failures or other financial hardship. The Redskins wouldn't let them out of their agreements unless large penalties were paid.

The Redskins have a legal right to sue fans who breach multiyear ticket contracts. The team currently sells premium season tickets only for contracted terms of 6, 8 or 10 years. The 20,000 premium seats go for $2,950 to $5,250 per season.

Acceleration Clauses

These multiyear ticket contracts generally include an acceleration clause that makes the entire contract due upon default. A default occurs if the ticketholder fails to make an installment payment or otherwise breaks a contract requirement. If the required payment isn't made, the team has a right to collect the amount due for every season through the end of the contract term, plus interest, attorneys' fees and court costs.

The team sued a real estate agent unable to keep up $5,300 annual payments on a 10-year contract for two loge seats behind the end zone. When she failed to show up in court, the team won a default judgment against her for $66,364. The judgment included payment for every season through 2017.

Fans Feel Misled

Several fans said that they didn't understand what they were getting into when they entered into the multiyear agreements. One thought he'd be able to get out of the contract if he later ran into financial difficulty. Another thought he had a year-to-year contract instead of a contract for a six-year term.

These types of excuses typically don't hold up well in court. Most contracts include an integration clause that essentially says that the written contract is the final and entire agreement of the parties. A well-known rule of evidence, the parol evidence rule, prevents the parties from introducing any evidence that contradicts clear terms in the contract. Although there are some exceptions, the integration clause and parole evidence rule generally prevent claiming they had some other verbal agreement or understanding about the contract.

Make a Deal

The best thing for fans to do in this situation is to negotiate (or have their lawyer negotiate) with the team. In reality, this is how most ticket defaults are handled.

Business Is Business

The Redskins' lawyer explained that suing fans was a business matter. The team relies on these ticket contract commitments when making financial plans.

For individual die-hard fans though, the purchase of season tickets is much more than a mere business transaction. The purchase symbolizes a significant personal and emotional attachment to the team. These are loyal fans who supported the Redskins, win or lose, through good times and bad. They are heart-broken that the Redskins didn't show them the same kind of loyalty.

Several ballclubs have a policy against suing individual fans on ticket contracts. They simply void, or cancel, the contract and resell the tickets. Perhaps they find it makes better business sense in the long run to support the fans.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • How do sports teams handle canceling or terminating contracts for season tickets for the teams in our area?
  • Are contracts for season ticket purchases standardized in any way within sports or geographic regions?
  • If an organization won't let me cancel a contract for season tickets, what restrictions can it place on me if I want to sell my contract or tickets to individual games to others?
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