The New Jersey Supreme Court has agreed to hear a question of law from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit over whether the NFL’s Super Bowl ticket sales practices violated state law.
The justices, in a Feb. 1 order, agreed to consider whether the term “person who has access to tickets to an event prior to the tickets’ release for sale to the general public,” as used in the state ticket sales law, is limited to ticket brokers and resellers. The justices are also expected to consider if tickets to an event that are sold to the winners of a lottery are deemed to be sold to members of the general public, and whether tickets sold to selected entities are deemed withheld from the general public.
The justices are also set to consider whether the National Football League policies ran afoul of New jersey state law declaring it unlawful for persons controlling ticket sales to withhold from the general public more than 5 percent of available tickets to an event.
The suit focuses on ticket sales for Super Bowl XLVIII, held at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, in February 2014. In the game, the Seattle Seahawks claimed the football world championship, 43-8, over the Denver Broncos.
The suit claims 99 percent of tickets for the game went to teams and league insiders, and only 1 percent were sold to the public by lottery. Named plaintiff Josh Finkelman says he bought two tickets with a face value of $800 each but he paid $2,000 each for the tickets.
The suit, Finkelman v. NFL, filed in January 2014, is brought on behalf of a class of fans who bought tickets to the event for more than face value. It says that 75 percent of Super Bowl tickets are distributed among the 32 NFL teams, which grossly inflate the prices and then offer them in packages along with luxury hotels, meals and limousines, according to the suit.
The suit says the insiders who the NFL provides tickets to are more likely to sell those tickets through third-party brokers, to keep those sales anonymous, and those brokers, in turn, charge higher prices. According to the suit, if more tickets were made available to fans initially, more tickets would be sold through fan-to-fan sales, keeping the price down.
U.S. District Judge Peter Sheridan of the District of New Jersey dismissed the case twice for lack of standing, and the case was heard twice at the Third Circuit. The first time the case went to the court of appeals, the panel’s January 2016 ruling agreed with the court below that the plaintiff lacked standing. On its second trip to the appeals court, Finkelman was held in December 2016 to have demonstrated standing under Article III of the U.S. Constitution. Additionally, he showed in his amended allegations that the NFL’s withholding of tickets drove up prices in the secondary market, according to the appeals court.
The case is one of first impression and the damages could reach the hundreds of millions, if ticket-buyers’ expenditures are trebled under the Consumer Fraud Act, said Bruce Nagel of Nagel Rice in Roseland, New Jersey, who represents the class.
The NFL has admitted violating the New Jersey ticket sales statute by distributing the small number of tickets for the public through a lottery, Nagel said.
The Supreme Court is likely to accept briefs from the parties in the case and conduct oral arguments before ruling, Nagel said. The Third Circuit would then take up the case again after the Supreme Court issues its ruling, Nagel said.
Karen Confoy of Fox Rothschild in Princeton, New Jersey, and Jonathan Pressment of Haynes & Boone in New York, representing the NFL, did not return calls about the case.