Can Sports Teams Keep Rival Fans Away?

One 49ers fan wants millions after he was blocked from attending a football game in Seattle.

Seahawks only; no Niners fans allowed.
National Journal
Alex Brown
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Alex Brown
April 28, 2014, 10:59 a.m.

When Seattle Seahawks corner­back Richard Sher­man crushed the Su­per Bowl dreams of 49ers fan John E. Wil­li­ams III, Wil­li­ams wasn’t there to see it in per­son. For that, he wants $50 mil­lion.

Wil­li­ams filed suit this month against the Seattle Seahawks, the NFL, and Tick­et­mas­ter; he’s al­leging the prac­tice of re­strict­ing tick­et sales to res­id­ents of cer­tain states is a vi­ol­a­tion of fed­er­al law.

For Janu­ary’s NFC Cham­pi­on­ship game in Seattle, the Seahawks lim­ited on­line tick­et sales to cred­it card hold­ers who lived in Wash­ing­ton, Ore­gon, Montana, Idaho, Alaska, Hawaii, and some parts of Canada. Wil­li­ams, a diehard 49ers fan and Las Ve­gas res­id­ent, couldn’t buy him­self a tick­et — ex­actly what the Seahawks in­ten­ded.

Seattle isn’t the only team to try to pro­tect its home-field ad­vant­age by lim­it­ing the num­ber of tick­ets sold to out­siders. The Ok­lahoma City Thun­der is cur­rently keep­ing play­off tick­ets to a few neigh­bor­ing states, leav­ing out the Mem­ph­is Grizz­lies fans who might oth­er­wise in­vade.

That, Wil­li­ams says, should be il­leg­al. His law­suit cites both fed­er­al and state laws that ban “un­fair or de­cept­ive” busi­ness prac­tices. The fed­er­al law ref­er­enced by Wil­li­ams em­powers the Fed­er­al Trade Com­mis­sion to stop such prac­tices and levy fines for vi­ol­at­ors. An FTC spokes­man did not of­fer com­ment on if the agency is re­view­ing the case.

The U.S. Dis­trict Court in Las Ve­gas, where the suit was filed, did not re­spond to calls for com­ment.

Ac­cord­ing to Wil­li­ams, the se­lect­ive sales are a form of “eco­nom­ic dis­crim­in­a­tion.” Giv­en the NFL’s tax-ex­empt status and use of pub­lic fund­ing to build many of its sta­di­ums, the league has an ob­lig­a­tion to give all cit­izens a fair chance to pur­chase its products, Wil­li­ams said.

The Seahawks and Tick­et­mas­ter did not im­me­di­ately re­spond to re­quests for com­ment. An NFL spokes­man de­clined to weigh in.

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