A 49ers fan displays her hopes for next season at a Seahawks game. If a San Francisco fan has his way, the sign could also refer to playoff tickets, which were limited to markets with strong Seattle support this year. Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Saying the Seattle Seahawks kept San Francisco 49ers fans from being able to pull for their team in January’s NFC title game, a 49ers fan is suing the NFL, claiming the practice of limiting ticket sales to pro-Seahawks markets amounts to “economic discrimination.” He is seeking $50 million in damages.
As hosts of the playoff game, the Seahawks limited credit-card sales of tickets to accounts with billing addresses in a list of nearby states. California wasn’t on that list, which included parts of Canada and Hawaii. As a resident of Nevada, John E. Williams III was shut out.
“They’re always boasting up there about their 12th player and everything else,” Williams recently told the AP. “But by allowing the NFL to decide who can or cannot attend the games, you make it an unfair game. Seattle fixed it.”
The Seahawks went on to win the Super Bowl after dispatching their bitter rivals the 49ers in a tense 23-17 contest.
“Tickets should go on sale on a first-come, first-served basis. Not who they want in the crowd,” Williams told the Las Vegas Sun this week. His complaint, “calls for the NFL to establish a uniform policy for ticket sales to all of its games,” the newspaper says.
Part of the lawsuit’s reasoning rests on the idea that the NFL and its teams rely on public subsidies and taxpayer funds.
The lawsuit also notes that 2011 financial data show that “the NFL profited from not paying federal taxes, in the sum of approximately One Billion ($1,000,000,000) annually.
The NFL is protected from taxes by rules that cover groups such as trade associations. That means that, as NPR reported in January, the league “is registered as a not-for-profit, tax-exempt organization — even with a commissioner who makes nearly $30 million a year.”
The lawsuit targets “selective sales” of tickets to events held in publicly funded stadiums such as Seattle’s. The lawsuit names the NFL, the Seahawks, the stadium’s operators, and Ticketmaster.
“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 lawsuit says.
But as you might expect, the strategy of restricting ticket sales to boost a home-crowd advantage isn’t unique to Seattle.
The website My Northwest reports:
“While there was plenty of criticism leveled at the Seahawks for limiting sales, the team is far from alone. The Denver Broncos also limited ticket sales to the AFC Championship Game to Colorado and surrounding states, but did not draw the same outrage. Other teams have limited sales by geography in the past as well.”