washingtonpost.com
Redskins: Ticket Sales and Lawsuits

James V. Grimaldi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 3, 2009; 2:00 PM

Washington Post reporter James V. Grimaldi, was online Thursday, Sep. 3 at 2:00 p.m. to talk about the Redskins' practice of selling higher numbers of general admission tickets to ticket brokerages rather than the general public, and the team's lawsuits against fans who tried to back out of their ticket contracts after being laid off or having relatives pass away.

A transcript follows.

Read more about the Redskins' ticket selling practices in the Post's investigative piece by James Grimaldi that details the Redskins' past dealings with ticket brokerages and fan lawsuits.

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James Grimaldi: Good afternoon. Thanks for all the great questions already. I'm a bit overwhelmed. If you would like to contact me directly with a personal story regarding the Redskins, feel free to email me at grimaldij@washpost.com. I have tried today to respond to every email. Are you ready for some football?

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Hill East, Washington, D.C.: I started out feeling very sympathetic to Ms. Hill in the first paragraphs of the story. But, I'm a little lost on the not showing up to court and not even responding to the lawsuit. That's great she feels responsible for honoring her debts, we all do ... but if you don't respond to the suit there can't be any negotiations, the judge can't send it to arbitration - it's just giving up.

Other people didn't respond either. Maybe judges can't actually send things to arbitration? I understand they signed the contract and applaud their taking responsibility - and yes I would think the team would work with these people - but from the story it sounds like those highlighted just gave up, and I don't know how they could expect any other outcome then being forced to pay.

James Grimaldi: I think that Mrs. Hill did not respond because she honestly believes -- despite her circumstances -- that she was obligated to make the payments. I also think she thought that her previously successful real-estate business would rebound, but it did not. In fact, I think Mrs. Hill still believes her business will come back, she will sell some houses, get some commissions and rescue herself from bankruptcy. Her bankruptcy lawyers have been after her to sign the papers to go to court, but she just won't give up hope.

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McLean, Va.: I'm a lukewarm Redskins fan and Snyder critic. But I can't see why you or the Post's editors think either of your articles is worth the page 1 real estate (or any space at all). They can sell their tickets to whomever they want, in whatever way they think makes economic sense. They have a right to enforce their contracts, just as the customers could if the Redskins breached them.

It would be nice if they were more lenient in some cases, but it's not a big deal if they stand on their rights. I get the feel you put in a bunch of time on this story and decided to write even when you came up empty.

James Grimaldi: Thanks for your comments. Yes, the Redskins have the legal right to enforce legally binding contracts. This story explored the nuances of what a company should do when faced with people who have defaulted in a sour economy, and how the company makes choices about who to sue and who not to sue. We did not have perfect information, but 137 lawsuits provides a pretty good sample to start with.

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Silver Spring , Md.: I actually talked to Jason ( friendman Sp?) a few days ago and I was supposed to sign a contract today for a three-year term with the Redskins. The tickets are at $2495 per ticket. I am getting two tickets in the club section 342.

I was supposed to sign the contract yesterday and I did not. I happened to hear about this scandal on the news last night.

I spoke to Jason today and I asked why I couldn't get the tickets on a year-by-year basis.

He said that if I pay for it year-by-year the club seats would cost me $4900 per seat per season. He told me that to get the $2495 price I had to commit to a three-year contract. With this three year contract the price automatically increases by six percent each year. He told me if I sign a 10-year contract that the price would only go up by three percent each year.

I really want the tickets but I feel like these contract rules are unfair. What should I do? ... Should I sign the contract today? Thanks for your reporting

James Grimaldi: I cannot answer your questions about your conversation with Jason Freidman, vice president of premium seating for the Redskins. You have to decide on your own. But the story today should make you consider that you are signing a binding contract and if, at some point, you cannot afford the tickets, you could wind up in court with the team. Think of it this way: A 10-year contract at that price would oblige you to pay $24,950, plus tax, plus an escalator factor of probably 4 percent and also parking, if you want it. That's a significant commitment.

James Grimaldi: I cannot answer your questions about your conversation with Jason Freidman, vice president of premium seating for the Redskins. You have to decide on your own. But the story today should make you consider that you are signing a binding contract and if, at some point, you cannot afford the tickets, you could wind up in court with the team. Think of it this way: A 10-year contract at that price would oblige you to pay $24,950, plus tax, plus an escalator factor of probably 4 percent and also parking, if you want it. That's a significant commitment. Caveat emptor.

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Upper Marlboro, Md.: I too am a redskin ticket holder having a hard time paying my tickets off ( I have two years remaining on my contract) due to a medical issue. As I read the stories from the last couple of days, I wonder is there any hope for my situation. If I ask to be released from my contract will be I hauled off to court? Hopeless in Upper Marlboro

James Grimaldi: Dave Donovan, general counsel of the Redskins, said he makes accommodations in many cases. You should call him and ask him for relief in your contract. He said he is responsive to such calls.

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Washington, D.C.: Great articles. This story has been picked up by the local press. Do you think it is wrong for the local news stations to use information from the Post's stories without providing attribution? Last night, WJLA reported on the Redskins ticket selling issue, using information (from "sources") that sounded like it was directly from the Post's story. I've noticed WAMU doing this in the past too (don't know if they did it with this story). To me, this is plagiarism, but I am not in the news business.

James Grimaldi: Interesting question. That has happened a lot in my career, so I try not to take it personally.

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Barno, Md.: James,

What do you say to readers, like me, who believe your series this week is just another in a long line of unfair attacks on the team that started several years ago when the Redskins cut off the 240+ general admission season tickets that the Post had owned for over 50 years?

The Washington Post has had a public feud with the team for years, and your stories -- especially since they originated with known Redskins-hater Jason La Canfora -- seem like a continuation of the years long feud.

James Grimaldi: You should read the stories and evaluate them based upon the facts, and certainly take into consideration any other factors at play. I would disagree with your assertion that there has been a public feud. Indeed, it is my understanding that the personal relationship between Mr. Snyder and top people at The Washington Post has warmed considerably in the past year or so.

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Gaithersburg, Md.: You quoted Mr. Donnavan in your piece that "Everyone that you can identity who is unhappy about the negotiation, I could find you 12 where the fan was appreciative." So how many names did he give you?

James Grimaldi: He said he could not for privacy reasons.

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Arlington, VA: I almost cried reading the last paragraph of your story. Heart-breaking. Have you received any word from Snyder or the organization since this story ran? I wonder if season ticket holders will cancel their orders because of this. I'm glad I'm a Steeler fan! You gotta feel for the lifelong Redskins fans.

James Grimaldi: I spoke to Dave Donovan for 90 minutes yesterday and have received numerous emails from the organization, but largely I have not heard anything. Mr. Donovan contacted me late Wednesday to say that he had found an anomaly in our stadium graphic and I thanked him for pointing it out and we fixed it. (Long story short: Our database had translated a blank spot into a 0 when it really meant the information was unavailable.) Mr. Donovan did not think the stories were at all related and objected to them running consecutively and he did not like the headline on the graphic that outlined where the broker tickets were in the stadium and where the seats were for fans who had been sued ("Selling to Brokers, Suing Fans"), but that's about it. We made every effort to include their comments in the stories and I think we got all of their major arguments.

James Grimaldi: spoke to Dave Donovan for 90 minutes yesterday and have received numerous emails from the organization, but largely I have not heard anything. Mr. Donovan contacted me late Wednesday to say that he had found an anomaly in our stadium graphic and I thanked him for pointing it out and we fixed it. (Long story short: Our database had translated a blank spot into a 0 when it really meant the information was unavailable.) Mr. Donovan did not think the stories were at all related and objected to them running consecutively and he did not like the headline on the graphic that outlined where the broker tickets were in the stadium and where the seats were for fans who had been sued ("Selling to Brokers, Suing Fans"), but that's about it. We made every effort to include their comments in the stories and I think we published all of their major arguments.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Do you feel the number of supposed people on the waiting list for tickets is a bit misleading? There are probably a huge number who applied years ago and for various reasons are no longer interested. The huge balance of the remaining applicants are probably only interested in lower bowl seats and certainly not tickets at club level prices.

James Grimaldi: I've had a lot of emails from people reflecting this viewpoint.

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Washington, D.C.: James, very interesting articles. I'm wondering how the concept for the article started? Specifically, what was the timeline? When did you hear about the sales to brokers, etc.? Can you also please confirm the fact that there is, in fact, a conspiracy at The Post to get Dan Snyder after the Redskins yanked your paper's tickets four years ago? Please also provide your long form birth certificate so we know you are not from Dallas.

James Grimaldi: As I said on the Post TV show on Comcast last night, the story began with Jason La Canfora. He needed some help and I was eager to do it. He's a great reporter who now works for the NFL Network, which is owned by the owners of all the football teams in the league -- so essentially he works for Dan Snyder now, albeit indirectly. Anyway, I refer you to the previous question about the conspiracy theory. I have tried to be scrupulous in my coverage of this story.

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Washington, D.C.: The Redskins, via David Donovan, don't seem to think this story is especially important. But do you think all this negative publicity will stop the lawsuits?

James Grimaldi: Mr. Donovan assured me there will probably be more lawsuits in the future.

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Gaithersburg, MD: The question I have for the Redskins, who I have loved passionately since I was six years old, is where to they get off asking loyal fans to sign such one-sided, burdensome agreements? And how do they -- and the courts, for that matter -- justify the terms that say that if you can't pay, you lose your tickets AND you have to pay for them for years to come? I'd at least think that the judges that preside over these cases would stipulate that if a judgment is paid, then the Redskins must honor the agreement that's being enforced, and cough up the tickets. !!!

James Grimaldi: Many of the people who signed the contracts told me that they were unaware of the terms. The Redskins say they are legal, but some attorneys I talked to said they'd like to test their legality.

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Annapolis, Md.: Any owner with bal ... kahunas ... would take it upon himself to face the music, either by talking to the media or joining in this chat or at least issuing a statement, to present his side of this thing. Think Leonsis. The fact that Daniel Snyder hasn't done this indicates he has no good side to argue, or he has no bal ... kahunas. Just an ivory tower with a nice view from all those trees illegally chopped down.

Remember when we used to make fun of JKC? This is no fun.

James Grimaldi: We would like to speak with Mr. Snyder about this matter and we would give him a fair hearing for sure.

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Northern Va.: It seems like there are a lot of holes in Donovan's story - you caught him in some "untruths" to me.

How did the skins not know that there were so many different ticket brokers buying seats? These were huge checks, with the names of the brokers in the top left corner!!! I don't believe for a second they didn't know this.

Jason Friedman is an officer of the company, right? Did he sign contracts with these brokers without the Skins own lawyer - Donovan - reviewing them.

According to Donovan, the Skins didn't get out of these contracts because they were afraid of being sued? Yet they are suing everybody that couldn't pay?

Also, it seems like the theme throughout the litigation is that people were told they could get out if needed, but then sued. This seems like more of a sanctioned practice than some rouge sales people.

According to Forbes.com, the Redskins are only a $340 million per year enterprise, so I find it very hard to claim they are some huge organization, and nobody knows what's going on. There are only probably 30-40 total people in the administrative/business office in Ashburn. That's actually very close knit to me. Do you believe the practices all combine to implicate a more planned policy? If so, it's fraud and illegal, and possibly criminal.

It seems like most of those who were sued would talk, but did you get cooperation from those still in litigation? I imagine most are terrified of the Skins right now due to the heavy handiness.

Does the NFL have anything to say about this, and do they have a responsibility to look into the corruption that is obviously going on?

With all of this, and the poor treatment given by the parking folks, the ushers, and everybody inside the stadium...do the Redskins care about the customer, or do they think they have a monopoly and can screw anybody they want with impunity? They seem to me to corrupt from Snyder on down.

BTW: GREAT job on the coverage of this long going practice, and I hope you continue to follow up as this goes on. Donovan and the team must be exposed before the NFL will start their own investigation, and fans understand the crooks they are dealing with.

James Grimaldi: Long question there. I'll try to tackle most of it.

Donovan said the "bad" sales people skated under the radar, and not for long; said that the name of Mitch Gershman (COO) was on the contracts, but with a rubber stamp only, and he didn't know.

Donovan said that the contracts with the broker were invalid, for reasons he said he could not fully explain; he said they settled because they determined that this would be hard to prove in court.

Not sure you can hold the NFL accountable for the actions of an owner, but it is a valid question.

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Rockville, Md.: Can you please clarify that the "waiting list" (whether real or not) is for general admission seats, not the club/loge seats that people are being sued over?

This means that the many comments I have seen saying that the Redskins should just turn the seats over to the next person on the waiting list instead of suing do not apply.

James Grimaldi: The Redskins say the list is real, but that it is for general admission seats, such as those coveted lower bowl seats. The lawsuits were for premium seats, including club seats, and suites.

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Kensington, Md.: Reading the comments that have accompanied your fine pair of articles, I see I'm not the only one who's wondered about this:

How can Redskins fans ever separate their love for the team from the reality of Dan Snyder?

Do the fans who keep pouring money into his pockets not realize that they're feeding the hand that bites them?

Short of a near-death experience, I can't imagine that Snyder is ever going to change his ways. And since Snyder is a relatively young and healthy man, we've likely got a good 30 or 40 more years of this sort of thing to look forward to.

Seriously, what has Washington ever done to deserve this? Is this God's idea of a joke?

James Grimaldi: Most of those sued, as you can imagine, are upset with the team and just about all of them have negative comments about the owner. All except Pat Hill. She genuinely does not seem to have an ounce of anger at the team or the owner.

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Germantown, Md.: So the Redskins' plan of action is to say the Washington Post either.

1. Has an axe to grind because their season tickets were taken away. or

2. Is trying to sell papers because sales are so down. Thus a story like this.

Meanwhile, they didn't deny the selling of tickets or brokers, AND brokers have said they get General Tickets because they are buying Club Level too. They aren't denying that there are some court cases going on.

My question is this. If something signs for 5 years at the club level. Then they default on their contract. The Skins rightfully go after them for that money or whatever. Meanwhile, the Skins sell those seats again under a new contract. Right? Does this mean they "could" make more out of it? Not saying they do. Just saying they could, right?

James Grimaldi: The teams believes it is well within its rights to resell the tickets.

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Arlington Va.: Did you get to talk to lawyers about the legality regarding having people pay for tickets that are then resold to others? I know it is a penalty for reneging on the contract, but essentially it is the same thing. I would be interested to know if there are legal issues involved here. It's a similar issue with an apartment lease, and I don't believe you can charge the previous tenant for the lost apartment charges if someone else signs a new lease.

James Grimaldi: The attorney quoted in the story -- Alan Silverberg -- argued just what you are saying, ie, that holding the seats, or the suites, is akin to a landlord-tenant case, regardless of what the contract says. If a tenant fails to pay rent and is evicted, the landlord must try to rent the property to someone else before going after the tenant for the full damages. Silverberg argued that on behalf of his client in pretrial discussions and the Redskins conceded the point. But Donovan said the concession was not and admission -- he said it was prudent rather than spend money to litigate the matter.

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I don't get it: If they have waiting lists YEARS long for tickets, surely they could have saved the legal fees and saved heartache for some of these people by just letting others purchase the seats. I could understand the need for lawsuits if the ticket demand was gone, but really- someone could have bought most of these, besides perhaps the corporate boxes.

James Grimaldi: The resales are somewhat complicated when you talk to the team. The contract prohibits the ticket holder from advertising and selling the entire season ticket package. But Redskins Vice President Karl Swanson said that the fan can, however, sell one game -- for example the Dallas -- to subsidize the rest of the season.

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Arlington, Va.: Frankly, I don't believe Mr. Donovan about the number of people the Redskins didn't sue. Do you think you'll be hearing from any of them about the terms of their settlement?

James Grimaldi: I haven't yet. I did talk to one man -- who really insisted that he didn't want to be quoted -- who said that he was sued for $12,000 despite his efforts to stay out of court. He showed up at court and told the Redskins lawyer that if he wanted he would go to trial and bring proof that he was unemployed and that his wife had cancer; the attorney agreed to settle for $2,500. However, he got nothing for the money -- and the Redskins owed him nothing, and could have held him liable for the full amount.

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Linconia, Penn.: In your opinion does a legitimate waiting list exist for Redskins tickets? If so, how many people are on it?

James Grimaldi: I don't opine. Leave that for the columnists, bloggers and editorial writers. The team says there are 150,000 to 160,000 names on the list.

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Mississippi Gulf Coast: As someone under economic pressure myself, this upsetting story is haunting me. Has the team contacted a crisis media company? Frankly it may be too late. The contempt is breathtaking.

James Grimaldi: Yes

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Annapolis, Md.: Thank you for your well-written article. I think the article clearly demonstrates the disconnect between serving fans and taking care of business.

I was curious as to your mention of the NFL teams that do not sue their fans. Clearly, these teams, like the Redskins, rely on the ticket sales for revenue, and surely must have similar cases where fans fail to fulfill their contractual obligations.

How do the other teams handle these situations?

Related: Do you have a recommendation for how the Redskins should restructure its business model in the future?

James Grimaldi: The stories answer your first question. As for the last question: Good question. There is a real dilemma here. If the team raises the prices of the lower-bowl seats, they will have to share more revenue overall with the NFL. Right now, the team provides about $33 per ticket. That price is calculated by taking one-third of the highest price GA ticket plus one (ie, $99 + $1), divided by three. Then, that amount is taken out of every ticket above that amount, no matter the price. If they raised the price of the lower-bowl ticket above $99, then they would lose profit to the league on the Club Seats. Does that make sense? (I hope so.)

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Will furor give pause to high-profile Snyder guests?: This is certainly a PR nightmare for the Redskins. Do you think that all of the well-known Washingtonians who've gotten a free ride to Snyder's box will defer from games this fall -- over the years, the politicians, the journalists, the lobbyists, the power elite get free tickets. Might be more than a bit unseemly to still be seen as getting gifts. If they protest that they love the Redskins so, so much- go pay for your own tickets.

James Grimaldi: Dunno

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Washington, D.C.: Is the team that hard up for cash? Could Snyder maybe be forced to sell?

James Grimaldi: No, I doubt it.

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Alexandria, Va.: Does the NFL have the right (or inclination) to step in and order Snyder to stop these despicable business practices?

James Grimaldi: Sales to brokers are not a violation of policy. Scalping by anyone in the league is a violation, and there are examples in the StubHub sales on the Joe Redskin account, outline in the story. Enforcing legally binding lawsuits is not a violation of any policy; the league might be concerned about appearances, but there is nothing they can do to stop them.

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Richard Glaub submitted this question through The Washington Post's Facebook fan page: I would like to ask, from a legal standpoint, how the Redskins can double-dip? How can they sue people, and win judgments, while at the same time, sell their tickets?

James Grimaldi: Donovan said that it would be absurd to freeze the seats while the litigation is pending.

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James Grimaldi: Thanks for the interesting chat. For those who have asked, I did talk to Pat Hill today. She said someone recognized her at the grocery store today, but otherwise it has been quiet and ordinary day. She is at work where she is hoping to make a few hundred dollars on a commission for renting a property today.

Have a great afternoon.

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