Tampa Bay Buccaneers might be taking unhappy season ticket holder to court
Mark Olson has enjoyed his two club seats on the 42-yard line at Raymond James Stadium. But at a combined $700 per Bucs game, he thought it best to give them up and try to purchase general seating, even if it meant forfeiting the remainder of his $4,860 deposit. This report was written by Rick Stroud and appeared in The St. Petersburg Times
Olson said his decision was not influenced by the team's 12-20 record since winning Super Bowl XXXVII.
But when the Dunedin businessman called the ticket office last week, he was stunned to hear the team might take him to court if he failed to renew the club seats he has owned for two years.
"Without prompting, they told me, "There's been so many people who've expressed that they might not renew their seats, we've been instructed to advise you that you may be sued by the team," he said.
"At that point, I almost dropped the phone. I said, "Can you repeat that again?' "
Like many club seat owners, Olson, 56, didn't read the fine print in his 10-year contract. Failure to pay any deposit or ticket charge under the agreement means the licensee is in default and the Bucs may declare the entire unpaid balance of the agreement immediately due, including money for future seasons.
The contract also states the Bucs will "exercise any other remedies available under the law."
Bucs public relations director Jeff Kamis said the team has not pursued legal action against a ticket-holder for defaulting on a club seat contract since RJS opened in 1998.
"First and foremost, we have never threatened any of our fans," he said. "Like any business, we have to enforce contracts. When someone calls wanting to cancel (club seats), we remind them of their rights and responsibilities under the agreement. And, of course, we would tell them that we would exercise any remedies available."
Though the language in the contract supports the team's right to sue, it might have trouble winning a judgment then reselling the seats, said Brad Bole, attorney with the law firm of Rahdert, Steele, Bryan, Bole & Reynolds, which represents the St. Petersburg Times.
"If the seats can be re-leased, this would be the best option for the Bucs: They would get the deposit and the full rental for the seats going forward," Bole said in an e-mail. "If there really isn't a waiting list and they can't re-lease the seats, they might take the deposit and sue for the balance, but I think they would have to offset the deposit and whatever they get from re-leasing the seats.
"If they do not re-lease the seats in order to protect their right to sue for the balance of the lease, it would look bad on TV to have a bunch of empty seats; it could lead to blackouts ... and, of course, suing season-ticket holders would be very bad public relations."
In fact, two years ago Olson was on a waiting list when the Bucs contacted him about purchasing club seats. He said the team gave him 30 minutes to examine the 10-year agreement and sign it.
"I haven't had my club seats since the stadium opened, so somebody owned them before I did and must have given them up," Olson said. "They resold them to me."
There are 12,000 club seats and Kamis estimated 1 percent or fewer of those owners have inquired about not renewing for 2005.
"I wouldn't say we've been getting a lot of calls," Kamis said.
Olson expected to forfeit his deposit, but the team's threat to sue for the balance has him baffled.
"They've got a billboard that claims they have a waiting list of 108,000," Olson said. "If that's real, people canceling their seats would be a gold mine for them.
"I would think suing your fans would be a (public relations) nightmare. But they made reference to the fact that "other clubs have done it and been successful.' "
Most NFL teams with modern stadiums execute contracts for club seats and sky suites, a major source of revenue that often separates the league's haves from the have nots.
While club seat owners at RJS have avoided litigation, the Bucs have sued ticket-holders.
They filed $1-million defamation suits against three who complained publicly about the team and their seats after the move from Houlihan's Stadium to the smaller RJS.
In 2000, a settlement was reached in the class-action suit in which the Bucs agreed to make 120 seats available to season-ticket holders unhappy with their placement in the new stadium. The team also dropped its defamation suit. This report was written by Rick Stroud and appeared in The St. Petersburg Times