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Saturday, September 01, 2007
Does MLS Have a Legal Obligation to Refund Galaxy Tix Now That Beckham is Down?

One of the nicest things about spending this semester at the University of Utah College of Law is that my office is about 100 yards from Rice-Eccles Stadium, home of the Utah Utes as well as Major League Soccer's Real Salt Lake. Like many fans in MLS cities around the country, I bought tickets for an upcoming visit by the Los Angeles Galaxy, hoping to walk across the street on September 19 to see David Beckham in person.

Now that the fabled star appears unlikely to play over the remainder of this season, a number of commentators are calling on the league to refund tickets or offer fans tickets for next year's Galaxy games. For, Filip Bondy writes, "there ought to be a limit to the phrase, 'buyer beware,' when it comes to a transcendent superstar."

From a contract law perspective, the league appears to have little obligation to offer refunds or exchanges. Mike has discussed the contract law issues in detail in his posts from this summer on the Buick Invitational, Formula One Racing case, and Billy Donovan's brief flirtation with the Orlando Magic. I agree with Mike that a contract law claim against a team over this kind of alleged breach is a likely loser.

Still, I wonder if there might be some other legal exposure here. What about a claim under federal or state law for false or deceptive advertising? Some commentators on the Beckham situation have suggested that the league was well aware of Beckham's nagging injuries before he arrived in America, and that the league went ahead and marketed games featuring Beckham as "special events." I'm not an expert on this area of law, but my guess is that fans would still face an uphill battle in trying to show that MLS had specific knowledge that Beckham was unlikely to play due to injuries at the time they made representations about his possible appearance. Moreover, "Beckham non-guarantees" like Ticketmaster's might be said to make clear to fans that they should not expect Beckham to be at every game.

As Bondy notes, regardless of what the law says, MLS may be risking arousing public resentment if it declines to offer refunds. For a relatively young league in a sport that has had persistent trouble putting down roots in this country, that may not be a risk worth taking.


"Deceptive advertising"????

Nope. It was known that David Beckham had a bad left ankle; that's why it took so long to get him into a full 90-minute match. Now the knee on the other leg is hurt as well, and he's out for the season. No deceptive advertising;
it would be as if Landon Donovan wrecked his knee and was out for the season. That is a risk a fan buying a ticket takes.

This would be similar to buying a ticket in early October for a Utah-Cleveland January NBA game--only to have LeBron James go out for the season with a knee injury in late November.

There is no deceptive advertising here; anyone knows when one buys a ticket for an event--rock concert, sports game, etc.--that there is a possibility that the concert could be postponed or cancelled (refunds are offered) or a major player(s) you want to see may not be playing due to injury or suspension (the games still go on in either case).

Indiana fans, buying tickets before the season started on the premise that the Pacers were a possible "championship" winning team, I don't think got any refunds--I'm not sure about this!--after the Pacers went into the stands in Detroit four years back and blew their "championship" hopes up with every swing of a fist. (Now if they had sued the Pistons, the Palace of Auburn Hills, and the sherriff and police departments, claiming lack of protection . . . I don't know if the fans had a case, but I think the Indiana PLAYERS would have.)

Anonymous Anonymous -- 9/01/2007 5:06 PM  

Here's a question and then a comment. First, the question: did the ticket(s) have some kind of clause as part of the license agreement to use saying that there are "no refunds/cancellations" due to injuries or substitutions?

The comment: Before I became a lawyer, I was a free-lance writer covering classical music. There were certain artists who had a reputation for canceling performances due to illness (or in one case, the dislike of air travel to the US from Europe). Only if that person was scheduled to perform a solo recital and canceled, did the hall offer refunds. If the artist was performing as part of an orchestral program and canceled, then it was tough luck -- even if the person had a history of lack of performance. The evening's program would be changed either by use of a substitute person or no soloist at all.

As you said, legally, it's highly unlikely and I doubt there would be an deceptive ad argument.

Blogger Mark Conrad -- 9/01/2007 7:19 PM  

It seems to me that any ticket holder who seeks a refund would have a huge hurdle to overcome. Not only does the law not offer much support, but the ramifications that would occur from this precedent could be devastating. If a court held that MLS was obligated to refund ticket holders because Beckham was injured, then a precedent would exist giving support for ticket holders to seek refunds whenever a player is injured. One could allege that he or she purchased the ticket to the game to see "X" athlete, but now he or she is injured; therefore, in light of the MLS ruling, the ticket holder would be entitled to a refund. It seems that a ruling requiring refunds would open the door for a flood of litigation. If this does happen, then it is intuitive that ticket prices will more than likely increase. Teams will incur additional legal expenses and will pass the expenses on to the ticket holder. So, it’s possible that a ruling might help ticket holders momentarily, but in the long run, leave ticket holders worse off.

The situation is very analogous an experience I had one time. I went to see the Broadway Play The Producers a few years ago. At the time, the cast members included Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane. I purchased my ticket somewhat in anticipation of seeing Broderick and Lane. I arrived at the theatre and received my program only to learn that Broderick and Lane would not be in the cast that evening. Although they had been advertised as the main cast members, they were not present for my show. I saw the play with the roles being played by Broderick and Lane's understudies. However, I was not in anyway upset by this to the point of demanding a refund. I had paid the ticket price to overall see the play, not the two actors. I still was able to see the play. The same is true in a MLS, baseball, basketball, football, etc. You might purchase the ticket with the hope of seeing Beckham or Broderick, but the ticket allows you to see the game. One is still able to achieve what the ticket insures - soccer, baseball, etc. - just a certain player is not visible. All this being said, one is still disappointed to learn that Broderick or Beckham will not be playing for some reason, but a refund is not warranted because one still saw the overall production.

Anonymous Matthew Courtner -- 9/01/2007 8:32 PM  

I think it is clear that anyone seeking for a refund would have a thin chance of success.

However, the post is very interesting because it contrasts very well with what happens in bigger, more established leagues. I mean no disrespect to the MLS, of which I am a fan, but the issue only arises due to the magnitude of Beckham's name in relation to all others. While only a marginal percentage would buy Barcelona tickets to watch Ronaldinho or Henry, because watching Barcelona and a Spanish League game is valuable on its own, in the US there are actually people that buy tickets just to watch Beckham. People that never went to a game, that aren't fans of the Galaxy. In that sense, Mark's comment regarding the Solo artists makes a lot of sense.

In any way, a tough claim.

Anonymous Luis Cassiano Neves -- 9/03/2007 10:31 AM  

I think any fan that would even think of trying to get a refund should save their breath, as well as their legal expenses.

If someone were to win against the MLS for this "Deceptive advertising" claim, what is to keep any fan of any team from claiming the same thing.

What happens when you buy a ticket to say, a Yankees game, and when you get there, you are informed Derek Jeter or Alex Rodriguez were given the day off to rest?? Do you then have a claim against the Yankees?? NOOOOOOO....these "talking heads" on tv are just on there to get paid by saying what the media producers want to hear....

Anonymous Ryan Kendall -- 9/03/2007 7:22 PM  

However, the post is very interesting because it contrasts very well with what happens in bigger, more established leagues. I mean no disrespect to the MLS, of which I am a fan, but the issue only arises due to the magnitude of Beckham's name in relation to all others. While only a marginal percentage would buy Barcelona tickets to watch Ronaldinho or Henry, because watching Barcelona and a Spanish League game is valuable on its own, in the US there are actually people that buy tickets just to watch Beckham.

A situation similar to MLS and Beckham can arise when people buy tickets to PGA tournaments and Tiger Woods decides not to play. As far as many fans are concerned Tiger is the PGA.

Anonymous Peter -- 9/03/2007 8:49 PM  

MLS would be setting a ridiculous precedent by refunding ticket purchases due to Beckham's injury. As has already been alluded to on this forum, when a fan purchases a ticket to a sporting event (be it professional or college sports), he or she takes the risk their favorite player or the one everybody came to watch will not play due to injury or possibly a suspension. It's just a fact of sports.
I can relate to this situation somewhat. When I was in Tennessee a few weeks ago I purchased a ticket to a TN Titans preseason football game. While I am a Titans fan, it can definitely be argued that myself along with many other Titans fans who purchased tickets to that game did so to see Vince Young (the obvious franchise player of that team). When it was announced the day of the game that he was not playing that night due to a suspension, could we as Titans fans demand a refund for our tickets that night? Of course not. I know that the situations are different but the same premise applies. MLS should not set a damaging and dangerous precedent by issuing any kind of refunds related to Beckham's injury. Nor do I think they will do such a thing. Professional soccer is already a fringe sport in U.S. and around 5th to 6th in popularity. They would not want to further alienate themselves from the casual American fan or viewer by doing something so drastic and ill-advised.

Blogger lambuthspe -- 9/04/2007 12:26 AM  

That previous post should have been signed by John Biggs. Apparently I have two Google accounts. I guess that's what I get for forgetting passwords.

Blogger John Biggs -- 9/04/2007 12:32 AM  

I don't think there is any debate that it's a non-starter from a legal standpoint.

Though not the focus of this blog, goodwill is mentioned and of course that is an asset that franchises take various steps to protect.

I am reminded of when PPV sportscasts were a little more wild west than now with a lot of independent operators in the field. The local media rights holder for the University of Arkansas put together a PPV package for one of their games (maybe South Carolina) and the Hogs played an absolutely dreadful game. Arkansas head coach Danny Ford sent a letter to members of the booster club apologizing for the terrible game and offered to refund the cost of the PPV purchase for anyone who mailed in a copy of their cable bill. A friend actually sent his in and got a check.

Blogger Mark -- 9/04/2007 3:53 PM  

fully realizing this is a legal blog, i still would like to comment about the mls, as a viable sports alternative in the us.

personally, i do not feel the mls will ever make it with their current business model. as such, they are trying to be everything to everyone -- a fledgeling league, at that.

the mls should strongly cater to its base, true football supporters -- those dying to mimic the EPLs LaLiga's and Bundes of the world -- and stop catering to the soccer moms.

moreoever, television coverage (for the TRUE footy supporter) is, for lack of a better term, horrendous. i view matches in every major league weekly, and have never seen these idiotic extreme close-ups of players WHILST in the middle of game action. not talking about stopages, but WHILE the game is going on the pitch. not even going to mention the radio-announcer like calls of the match (beckham gets the ball, passes it over to jones..jones passes it over the left side to podunk...podunk passes it over to killmenow... killmenow passes the ball over to...) WE SEE THE SCREEN!

thank you.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 9/04/2007 5:13 PM  

Mark's prior comment mentions pay-per-views. As a boxing fan I of course know quite a bit about PPV's because boxing is full of them - way too full, but that's another matter for another time. Watching a boxing PPV is always a somewhat risky proposition because the main bout can end very quickly. Even so, the caveat emptor doctrine always applies; it's understood by everyone that if you pay fifty bucks for a PPV and there's a first-round knockout, there are no refunds.

Anonymous Peter -- 9/04/2007 8:08 PM  

And the touted undercard fights often change as well.

Blogger Mark -- 9/05/2007 2:18 PM  

Without much knowledge of the actual "law" behind this matter I would still like to voice my opinion on the subject.
I understand why people would expect to get a refund at a sporting event if the game was canceled due to weather or technical difficulties. But giving a refund for "false" advertising because the "star" didn't play is ridiculous.
If you purchased the tickets and didn't get to see who you wanted to play that is your own fault. This would then mean that people would expect to get a refund if the player they wanted to see suddenly got ill and couldn't play in that game that they purchased tickets for. How can you control that?
Beckham obviously attempted to play on a hurt ankle and then he ended up getting hurt even worse. Why wouldn't the people who are now complaining have researched the health of their star player Beckham. If they would have been paying attention to the news they would have realized that he wasn't 100%.
So that being said if people are going to complain then they should do their research first, and waited to see Beckham play next year or whenever he is supposed to be healthy. The MLS is doing the right thing by keeping their money.

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Blogger Алексей -- 9/23/2007 2:28 PM  

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