Sports Law • Risk Management

October 4, 2010: Sports and the Recession's Effect on Ticket Sales

As a result of the recession, season tickets sales are down for the third consecutive year is the report from the Associated Press published on September 8, 2010 in an article found on the NFL website. Last year the Washington Redskins resorted to suing season ticket holders who had agreed to multiple-year contracts but due to job loss or other economic pressures asked to be released from their contractual obligation. The Redskins tried to renegotiate some contracts, but lawsuits were filed against those season ticket holders who were unable to fulfill even the renegotiated terms.

This uncertain time has created a conflict between professional sports teams and their fans. Teams like the Redskins cannot simply release season ticket holders from their contracts without any compensation because the Redskins has its own contracts to fulfill: paying salaries, marketing expenses and other overhead costs to run its business. Yet how can the team sue loyal fans without alienating its fans or others in particular when so many other fans are financially similarly situated?

Furthermore, how does the team expect a lawsuit to help collect ticket fees from a fan who could not afford to pay on the contract in the first place?

What’s more is that this economic crisis has created an expectation that victims of the economy should be excused from their debts. Thus, any business not showing sympathy by forgiving debts is viewed as a bad guy. While sports teams like the Redskins might not be harmed by releasing the occasional season ticket holder from a contract, it is unlikely they can afford to allow too many contracts to be rescinded. Thus, the approach used by the Redskins to renegotiate or modify contracts first and then to use litigation as a last resort sounds like a reasonable balance between preserving a relationship with its fans and protecting the team’s assets.