Sports Law Blog
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Friday, July 06, 2007
Bowers v. Federation Internationale de l’Automobile

Earlier this week, we examined whether people who bought tickets to the Buick Open expecting to see Tiger Woods play should be able to get their money back since Woods did not play, due to the birth of his daughter.

The post, which was based on a piece by Darren Rovell on CNBC's Sports Biz, generated several excellent reader comments, including those by gorjus, Joshua, and Jimmy H. The general belief is that no, those ticket buyers should not be able to recover since they bought tickets to the Buick Open, rather than to an individual session of Tiger Woods; the tournament features over 100 golfers, not 1. On the other hand, Woods was prominently promoted by those marketing the tournament, and he certainly was the big draw.

Tulane law prof Gabe Feldman, who has guest blogged here, e-mails me about Bowers v. Federation Internationale de l’Automobile, a case that just came down in the Seventh Circuit concerning an unsuccessful attempt by fans who bought tickets to the 2005 US Grand Prix to get their money back since only 6 of the 20 scheduled drivers actually competed:

Just saw your post on the Sports Law Blog regarding the Tiger Woods no show at the Buick Open. Thought you might be interested in this case that just came down in the Seventh Circuit—Bowers v. Federation Internationale de l’Automobile, 2007 WL 1518612 (7th Cir. May 25, 2007). Fans filed a breach of contract claim (among others) against FIA, F1, and others because the 2005 US Grand Prix had only 6 drivers (20 were scheduled to compete). The Seventh Circuit dismissed the claim and published a brief but interesting opinion regarding the contractual duties arising from the sale of a ticket. Here’s an excerpt:

This claim arguably should fail because IMS promised only to admit the plaintiffs to the race grounds on the days of the grand prix. While we are unaware of any Indiana case addressing the nature of a contract formed by the sale of an admission ticket, cf. Skalbania v. Simmons, 443 N.E.2d 352 (Ind.Ct.App.1982) (addressing a class certification question in a beach of contract action by season ticket holders against a hockey franchise, but explicitly reserving the merits), most states agree that the seller contracts only to admit the plaintiff to its property at a given time. The plaintiff buys the ticket, of course, in order to see an event that is scheduled to occur on the ticket-seller's grounds, but the seller does not contract to provide the spectacle, only to license the plaintiff to enter and “view whatever event transpire[s].” Castillo v. Tyson, 268 A.D.2d 336, 701 N.Y.S.2d 423, 423 (N.Y.App.Div.2003); . . . But see Miami Dolphins, Ltd. v. Genden & Bach, P.A., 545 So.2d 294, 296 (Fla.Dist.Ct.App.1989) (holding that a provision of a season ticket agreement requiring a refund when games were cancelled due to labor strikes was triggered when a football team played a game using strikebreakers).

The plaintiffs provide us no reason not to construe their tickets this way. While one could contract to provide a spectacle, one wonders why an exhibitor like IMS would do so, given that it has control over its grounds but not over the performers and their scheduled performances. Further, a spectator could reasonably decide to do without a contractual right to the spectacle itself, trusting that the exhibitor will work with the performers to ensure that the spectacle goes off lest both develop a bad reputation that could damage their future business. In the present case, Formula One is struggling to take root in the United States, where the racing of stock cars (modified versions of cars designed for the general public, governed by NASCAR) is the preeminent automotive sport. “Indygate's” potential damage to Formula One's American reputation was a serious concern for everyone involved; some speculated at the time that the FIA might never hold a race at IMS again.

Thanks again to Gabe. To read a PDF file of the case, click here.


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