Ticket Buyer Beware

May 24, 2010

The Third Circuit recently affirmed the dismissal of a claim brought by a New York Jets season ticket holder against the New England Patriots, Coach Bill Belichick, and the National Football League that arose out of the “Spygate” scandal.  The complaint, available on Westlaw at 2008 WL 5368010, alleged that the Patriots videotaped Jets coaches and players:

“with the purpose of illegally recording, capturing and stealing the New York Jets signals and visual coaching instructions . . . [and] violated the contractual expectations and rights of New York Jets ticket-holders who fully anticipated and contracted for a ticket to observe an honest match played in compliance with all laws, regulations and NFL rules.”

The plaintiff sought various forms of relief, including $61,600,000 (“the amount paid by New York Jets ticket-holders to watch eight fraudulent games between the New England Patriots and the New York Jets between 2000 and 2007”), and treble damages under RICO and the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act that would have pushed the total amount of compensatory damages to $184,800,000.

In affirming the New Jersey Federal District Court’s dismissal of the action (the opinion, Mayer v. Belichick, is at 2010 WL 1980344), the court noted that several other courts have refused to recognize “a cause of action arising out of bad performance or, more generally, the subjective expectations of the ticket-holders.”

I ran a quick search in WestlawNext (a WestSearch in All Jurisdictions for: ticket holder sues sports team) to see if there were other, similar suits out there.  Among the interesting results was Strauss v. Long Island Sports, Inc., 401 N.Y.S.2d 233, a case in which a “disgruntled” New York Nets (yes, New York – this was prior to the team’s move to New Jersey) season ticket holder sued the Nets after they traded Julius (Dr. J) Erving early in the 1976-1977 basketball season.