Pro Teams Have Wide Latitude in Revoking Season Tickets

Nov 18, 2005

An appeals court has turned away a New England Patriots season-ticket holder, which after having its tickets revoked because of bad behavior, had sought to regain its tickets through the courts.
Plaintiff Yarde Metals, Inc. was unsuccessful in claiming that it had “a contractual right to renew that trump[ed]” the Patriot’s “decision to cancel (the season ticket) on account of the behavior of the ticket holder.”
The litigious fire was set on October 13, 2002, when Mikel LaCroix, using one of the plaintiff’s season tickets, was ejected from Gillette Stadium for allegedly “throwing bottles in the seating section.”
Four days later, the team sent a letter requesting the return of Yarde’s remaining season tickets with an offer to refund the remaining value of the tickets.
What followed was Yarde’s appeal and claim that the offending behavior never occurred. In a letter to the Patriots, it claimed that LaCroix was ejected, not for throwing bottles, but for using the ladies restroom. LaCroix used the ladies restroom because there had been an insufficient number of men’s restrooms available for use. This plight had been noted in numerous newspaper columns, according to the court.
While the Patriots acknowledged receiving Yarde’s written appeal, it confirmed its decision to terminate the company’s season ticket account.
Yarde then filed a complaint, seeking to impose liability on the Patriots:
for breach of its “contractual right to season tickets [that included] a contractual right to renew its season tickets annually,” and
based on the “doctrine of equitable estoppel [which] prohibits the Patriots from contradicting the expectation of the plaintiff Yarde which the Patriots have created.”
The Patriots successfully moved to dismiss, pursuant to Mass.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), 365 Mass. 755 (1974), prompting the appeal.
Addressing the first claim, the court wrote that Yarde argued that “the process the Patriots followed in terminating (its) season tickets constituted a violation of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing that would be implied in any contractual right to renew annually.”
The court disagreed, writing that “the purchase of a ticket to a sports or entertainment event typically creates nothing more than a revocable license. See Opinion of the Justices, 247 Mass. 589, 596, 143 N.E. 808 (1924); Essex Theatres Co. v. Commonwealth, 265 Mass. 210, 213, 163 N.E. 747 (1928); Foster v. Shubert Holding Co., 316 Mass. 470, 473, 55 N.E.2d 772 (1944). Cf. Baseball Publishing Co. v. Bruton, 302 Mass. 54, 56, 18 N.E.2d 362 (1938).”
The court also cited case law from other jurisdictions, such as In re Harrell, 73 F.3d 218, 219 (9th Cir. 1996) (opportunity to renew season tickets is not a property right under Arizona law); Soderholm v. Chicago Natl. League Ball Club, Inc., 225 Ill. App. 3d 119, 124, 587 N.E.2d 517, 167 Ill. Dec. 248 (1992) (holding that a Chicago Cubs season ticket holder did not have a contractual right to an annual option to repurchase those tickets); Charpentier v. Los Angeles Rams Football Co., 75 Cal. App. 4th 301, 89 Cal. Rptr. 2d 115 (1999) (affirming dismissal of an implied contract claim against the Rams alleging a right to renewal, while stating in dicta that some renewal right might be subject of implied contract, but no fan could reasonably expect the right to renew season tickets when the team moved halfway across country).
The language on the back of the ticket – “purchase of season tickets does not entitle purchaser to renewal in a subsequent year” – only reinforces the court’s finding.
Turning to the question of estoppel, Yarde alleged that it was “entitled to its season tickets on the basis of estoppel.” It argued that automatic and routine renewals amounted to a representation that it possessed a renewal right.
“For Yarde to prevail on any estoppel claim, it must show, amongst other things, that its reliance on any alleged representation was reasonable. Turnpike Motors, Inc. v. Newbury Group, Inc., 413 Mass. 119, 125, 596 N.E.2d 989 (1992). Given the explicit language printed on the back of the ticket and included on the promotional materials, Yarde’s reliance on any purported conflicting representation was unwarranted. See Kuwaiti Danish Computer Co. v. Digital Equip. Corp., 438 Mass. 459, 468, 781 N.E.2d 787 (2003) (‘Reliance on any statement or conduct . . . was unreasonable as a matter of law because it conflicted with the qualifying language [in a written document]’).”
Yarde Metals, Inc. V. New England Patriots Limited Partnership; App. Ct. Mass.; No. 04-P-336; 9/3005
Attorneys of Record: (for plaintiff) Paul F. Denver. (for defendant) Daniel L. Goldberg.


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