Redskins sue fans over season ticket payment. Who's wrong?

Like a pimp after his money, the Washington Redskins are taking no pity on season ticket holders who are hit hard by the recession and can't afford to watch a team that went 8-8 last year.

The Redskins have sued 125 season ticket holders in the past five years who asked to be released from their multi-year contracts, with most saying they've lost a job or are experiencing some other financial hardship during the economic downturn, according to a Washington Post story.

If this isn't the ultimate slap in the face for unemployed people, I don't know what is. It's bad enough to be out of a job, but to be unable to get out of a contract you can't afford, and get sued on top of it for the length of the contract, is twice as bad.

Buying such luxury items, however, is a risk fans take when they sign a contract, WalletPop blogger Zac Bissonnette argues in his rebuttal near the end of this post.

Many businesses are trying to help the unemployed, figuring that a helping hand now will lead to customer loyalty when good times return. CVS and Walgreens are giving free flu shots to the unemployed. Hyundai is letting people who lose their jobs return their cars without having their credit harmed. JetBlue refunds tickets to people losing jobs.

But now the Redskins, a team that was last in the NFC East last year and should be lucky it has fans, any fans, who will pay $5,300 a year for two seats behind the end zone.

That's how much Pat HIll, 72, could no longer afford when the housing market crash hurt her real estate sales, causing her to ask the team to waive her contract for a year or two.

Instead, the Redskins sued Hill for backing out of a 10-year ticket renewal agreement after the first year, seeking payment for every season through 2017, plus interest, attorneys' fees and court costs. She couldn't afford a lawyer and didn't fight the lawsuit or respond, and the team won a default judgment of $66,364.

For its part, the Redskins say the lawsuits are a last resort and involve a small percentage of its 20,000 annual premium seat contracts. Hundreds of hard-luck cases have been accommodated, according to the team.

"The Washington Redskins routinely works out payment plans and alternate arrangements with hundreds of ticket holders every year," Redskins General Counsel David Donovan told the Post. "For every one we sue, I would guess we work out a deal with half a dozen."

But why sue any who have a legitimate hardship? Washington, D.C. has a 10.6% unemployment rate, so it's not like Redskins fans are immune from the recession.

I can understand having a fee to get out of such a contract, but suing someone who is down on their luck is cruel. If banks are willing to renegotiate loan terms for homeowners about to default, can't a football team do the same for its fans?

Rebuttal From WalletPOP blogger Zac Bissonnette: You'll make few friends beating up on unemployed people, but here's the problem: If your financial situation is precarious enough that losing a job will impact your ability to afford football tickets, you shouldn't have bought football tickets in the first place. Season tickets are such a luxury item that there's really no excuse for buying them unless you have not a financial care in the world.

Sports teams use season ticket sales figures to make financial projections that impact their own personnel decisions -- and in this economy, it won't be so easy to find replacement buyers for those season ticket holders who are trying to duck out. Why should the Redskins put themselves in a position where they might have to lay off their own innocent employees to provide a bailout to people who entered into a contract and then reneged?

Of course, people who bought season tickets can always try to negotiate settlements with the Redskins -- and I'm sure that they'd be open to reasonable offers that can save the team the expense of litigation. But either way, I don't think it's fair to get mad at the Redskins for trying to enforce its contracts.

Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area. He can be reached at
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