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Tuesday, August 20, 2019

New Jersey Supreme Court: NFL did not violate law with 2014 Super Bowl ticket sales


By Takesha Thomas | Jan 18, 2019

TRENTON, N.J. (Legal Newsline) – A panel of New Jersey Supreme Court judges has found that the NFL did not violate a state statute when it sold tickets for the 2014 Super Bowl.

The six-judge panel for the Supreme Court opined on Jan. 9 that the National Football League did not violate part of the New Jersey Ticket Law. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit had submitted questions to the high court regarding the matter.

"The NFL’s distribution of other tickets to the 2014 Super Bowl to its teams, other selected individuals, and entities therefore does not constitute the unlawful withholding of more than 5 percent of 'tickets to an event prior to the tickets’ release for sale to the general public' under section 35.1," the ruling states. 

The law, NJSA 56:8-35:1, states that “[i]t shall be an unlawful practice for a person, who has access to tickets to an event prior to the tickets’ release for sale to the general public, to withhold those tickets from sale to the general public in an amount exceeding 5 percent of all available seating for the event.” 

Josh Finkelman, on appeal from a dismissal by the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, argued that the NFL withheld sale of the Super Bowl tickets to the general public and filed putative class action against the NFL alleging violation of the Consumer Fraud Act. The law, which was in force when the Super Bowl was held in February 2014, has since been repealed by the state legislature. The repeal goes into effect Feb. 1, according to the court.

"The lottery winners were members of 'the general public' as that term is used in the statute. The fact that the winners were selected from a broader pool of entrants does not undermine that conclusion; nothing in section 35.1 or its legislative history suggests that in order for a release of tickets to constitute a 'release for sale to the general public,' tickets must be made available to any member of the public who wants to purchase them," the ruling states.

"The tickets provided to those winners were indeed 'release[d] for sale' to the winning entrants; the NFL did not donate tickets to the lottery winners, but sold two tickets at face value to each winner. Thus, when the NFL made 1 percent of the 2014 Super Bowl tickets available for sale to the lottery winners it 'released' those tickets for sale."

According to the ruling, the NFL has an established practice for Super Bowl games of selling "1 percent of the tickets to members of the public who had won the right to purchase those tickets in an NFL-sponsored lottery and gave the remaining 99 percent to teams, broadcast networks, corporate sponsors, and other individuals and entities." 

Finkelman alleged that the NFL withheld an excessive percentage of those tickets contrary to the state law. Finkelman argues that the statute is not limited to ticket brokers and resellers based on the legislature’s definition of “person” claiming that it is broader than its definition of “ticket broker.” 

The NFL argued that "Super Bowl tickets purchased by lottery winners were not released to the general public for purposes of section 35.1. The NFL construes the statute to apply only to events for which the sponsor makes tickets available to the general public, and argues that the 2014 Super Bowl did not constitute such an event," the ruling states.

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