Can They Take My Tickets? The Legal Rights of Sports Teams and Fans

AP Photo by Alan Diaz

AP Photo by Alan Diaz

Fan conduct is under the microscope.  Collegiate Athletic Directors, especially in basketball and football, have been trying to come up with solutions to fan behavior that often includes foul language, offensive signs, and personal taunts of opposing players.  The NFL recently instituted a “Fan Code of Conduct.”  These developments have some fans asking the question “what rights do I have as a ticket holder?”  Generally speaking the answer is that fans have very few rights.

1.  Revocable License

In legal terms, a ticket to a sporting event constitutes a revocable license.  A revocable license provides the license holder with a limited bundle of rights – such as the right to attend the game, sit in the assigned seat and use the stadium facilities made available to the public.  These rights can essentially be revoked by the team at any time and for any reason – especially if a fan violates the team’s prescribed rules of conduct.

2.  Read the Fine Print

The terms of the license are found on the back of the ticket to the sporting event.  The language is intentionally broad, providing the team with the power to take any action it deems necessary to promote the intended atmosphere.  Are the terms overly broad and unfair?  Possibly.  But by purchasing a ticket the fan agrees to adhere to these terms.

3.  What About Season Ticket Holders?

Season tickets are often the most coveted of tickets and can stay in families for decades.  Before each season, the season ticket holder is presented with the opportunity to purchase tickets for the upcoming year.  But does a legal right exist to purchase season tickets each year?  Absolutely not.  Courts have generally found that season ticket subscriptions do not implicate any legal right to renew annually.  Again, the fine print is illustrative.  Many tickets include terms to the effect of “purchase of season tickets does not entitle purchaser to renewal in subsequent year.”

Teams hold virtually all of the cards when it comes to the right to revoke a fan’s tickets.  However, the enforcement of these rights often depends on the relative power of the particular team at issue.  Cases of ticket revocation have recently been reported with the Patriots and Yankees – teams with large fan bases, sold-out stadiums and deep waiting lists for tickets.  Teams that struggle with attendance and fan relations are certainly less likely to revoke tickets.

Comments

  1. Dmitry Brichok says:

    Enjoyed reading the article, cited it as one of my references for my sports law class.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] A lawyer who bought a ticket for a Miami Heat-San Antonio Spurs game is suing the Spurs because the team rested its top players on the night  that he attended the game.  Darren Heitner of Forbes.com has the story.  Buying a ticket to a game provides only provides a fan the right to attend the game – an issue that I covered in the post “Can They Take My Tickets?  The Legal Rights of Sports Teams and Fans.” [...]

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