A football fan is suing several companies he said broke federal consumer laws and enacted "economic discrimination" against him and others. The lawsuit includes the NFL.
When John Williams III discovered his favorite team, the San Francisco 49ers, would be playing the NFC Championship Finals against the Seattle Seahawks at the CenturyLink Stadium, he did what any die-hard football fan would do: he decided to purchase tickets for the game, set for January 16. What would have been an exciting moment, however, ended in confusion, and outrage.
According to the lawsuit filed in April, Williams was denied the purchase of finals tickets on the Ticketmaster site because of his credit card. Williams says he received a message stating sales of tickets were "limited... to the public with addresses on the credit cards ONLY in the states of Washington, Oregon, Montana, Idaho, Alaska and Hawaii; or the Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Alberta."
Williams is a resident of Las Vegas, Nev., but says he doesn't understand why he was denied the right to purchase tickets, while fans of Canada weren't.
"[Canada] isn't even in the United States, and [their] citizens have not contributed to the [federal] taxes used to build the stadium." Williams said.
Many other football fans on social media sites discussing the lawsuit have cited the age old tradition of "home field advantage", the practice of filling a team's home stadium with that team's fans, in order to encourage the team to a winning outcome. Those in-stadium fans are also known as the "12th player".
"This happens regularly and there's nothing wrong with it," said Seahawk fan Jared Smith via Facebook. "The Broncos did the exact same thing for the AFC championship round."
"They're always boasting up there about their 12th player and everything else," Williams said Friday. "But by allowing the NFL to decide who can or cannot attend the games, you make it an unfair game. Seattle fixed it."
Williams, who is representing himself, claims in the lawsuit that the practice violates the Consumer Fraud Act, among other federal laws, and is "contrary to the spirit of the NFL, and contrary to public accommodation." The stadium that hosted the game was voted and paid for by taxpayers, something Williams says makes it a much bigger legal issue than just home team bias.
The NFL, which oversees all AFC and NFC football teams, is a non-profit organization with a federal tax exemption, and allows each team to decide best practices for their ticket sales. In states without scalping laws, Williams notes they encourage the resale of tickets at exorbitant prices by hosting sites like the NFL Exchange, a ticket bidding site that can push the cost of tickets into the tens of thousands of dollars.
"It is a pretty big deal. Unfortunately, it's common practice," Williams said in a phone interview Sunday. "Bottom line: be fair! Whether it’s tickets for baseball, basketball, hockey, or a concert, it's not about the gain, it's about the game. It's about the fans."
Williams seeks $10 million in punitive damages, and an additional $40 million in actual damages from the NFL, Ticketmaster, the Seattle Seahawks, Football Northwest LLC, First & Goal, INC., the Washington State Public Stadium Authority, and Lorraine Hine, who is the chair of the WSPSA. Williams says each has played a part in an egregious assault on fans’ ability to watch their favorite teams play in person.
"Say the Denver Broncos had their game in New England, and they were denied access. Would fans be ok with that? This is not right for anyone," Williams said.
On the phone, Williams said there’s “still a ways to go to see anything done”. The defendants in the case were served earlier last week, although none have responded to the allegations or calls for comment. Williams is hosting a second press conference in San Francisco later this week.