Redskins Have the Right to Sue, But Is It Worth Alienating Fans?

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Saturday, September 5, 2009

REDSKINS OWNER Daniel Snyder is within his rights to sue season-ticket holders who renege on their contracts. They entered into valid and enforceable contracts, and, after all, this is business. Still, it doesn't seem right -- or, to our minds, even good business -- to sue fans whose love of the football team you need, especially when love is what got them in trouble.

That means people like Pat Hill, a 72-year-old Alexandria woman and lifelong Redskins fan facing loss of her home after the team won a $66,364 judgment. The Post's James V. Grimaldi highlighted Ms. Hill's story in his examination of the Redskins' practice of bringing lawsuits against season-ticket holders who don't honor multiyear contracts for premium seats or skyboxes. According to The Post's account, 137 lawsuits (125 of them against individuals) have been filed since 2005. Many of those interviewed blamed losing their jobs or other hardships as the reason for their default on contracts. In Ms. Hill's case, for instance, she could no longer afford the $5,300 a year for two loge seats when her real estate business floundered. But the team's sales office wouldn't waive her contract.

Ms. Hill and others The Post cited didn't respond to letters from the team or even show up in court to answer the summonses. Had they done so, it might have been possible -- as Redskins General Counsel David Donovan claimed was the result in hundreds of other cases -- to work out alternate arrangements or payment plans. Mr. Donovan told The Post that the number of cases brought to court is but a tiny percentage of the team's 20,000 annual premium-seat contracts. It's also true that some of the people showed extraordinarily bad judgment, or at the very least were shortsighted, in thinking they could afford expensive seats.

Still, we can't help but be struck by the contrast between the Redskins' hard-line approach and those of the District's other professional sports teams, all of whom generally avoid lawsuits, particularly in the case of individual fans. Usually the Capitals, Nationals and Wizards opt for the sensible approach of voiding the contract and trying to resell the tickets. The Redskins may have a harder time finding buyers for these premium seats, which, unlike the more popular general-admission seats, don't have a waiting list. But is court action really worth the cost of hurting loyal fans or the risk of alienating future ones?


© 2009 The Washington Post Company

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