Miami Marlins Respond To Flagging Attendance By Suing Season Ticket Holders

Image courtesy of Mikevphotography

The idea of pro sports team suing its biggest fans may seem counter-intuitive, but try telling that to the Miami Marlins. Since 2013, the team — which ranks 27th out of 30 Major League Baseball teams in attendance — has reportedly sued at least nine fans with season tickets or luxury suite contracts, while also fighting legal battles against bankrupt stadium vendors.

The Miami New Times reports that these vendors and fans aren’t happy about these legal battles; they say the Marlins pushed an expensive new stadium on them — Marlins Park, the team’s home since 2012 — and promised big crowds, but fell flat.

One fan who’s been a season ticket holder since the team started in 1993 says that before the team moved to its new stadium, the Marlins promised him a first-floor parking spot in the stadium garage with his own private entrance. That, plus pre-game and post-game buffets in a private lounge for season ticket holders. He agreed to pay $24,000 per season over two years for two seats — almost twice the $13,000 he’d paid for the team’s final season at Dolphin Stadium

Instead, the team nixed the parking spaces and separate entrance so it wouldn’t have to shell out the cash to pay an usher to stand guard at the door, he says. The buffet turned into “the same bland panini for every game,” the New Times notes, and soon had a closing time of the sixth in inning instead of staying open past the last pitch.

The fan says he wrote the Marlins to let them know he’d be canceling his contract.

“I didn’t want my money back or anything, but I said, ‘Please give me back the stuff you promised.’ ” he told the New Times. “The answer I got back was basically, ‘Yeah, we know we took it all away, but tough [luck].’ ”

A month before the 2012 season, he called and wrote to the team, informing them he’d be canceling his package. He thought the Marlins would resell his season tickets and that would be that. It wasn’t: in 2013, the Marlins started suing vendors, suite owners, and fans.

Vendors feel the same way as the fans: one says he agreed to put four of his Sir Pizza franchises in the new Marlins Park, and agreed to pay $2 million to become the team’s official pizza sponsor. For that price, he says the team promised 30,000 fans a game and $2 million in pizza sales a year.

That didn’t happen, and now his company has filed for federal bankruptcy protection and shut down its stadium location. The Marlins sued him in September, saying he knew he would never be able to afford the $2 million fee.

“You bamboozled us for this ballpark and now you have the audacity to sue a small businessman?” says the franchise owner. “I lost it all. I lost my business. And you’re coming after me?”

These kinds of legal battles aren’t unheard of, but it doesn’t happen often in professional sports, experts say: most teams simply decide the cost to fight in court isn’t worth it.

Most of the lawsuits are ongoing, the New Times notes, but the former season ticket holder says he won’t be giving up without a fight.

“It’s just the principle,” he says. “If they would have provided what they said they’d provide, I’d still be a season ticket holder today.”

The Marlins declined to comment to the New Times on their story.

Marlins Sue Season Ticketholders, Vendors Bankrupted by Small Crowds [Miami New Times]

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