A group of Philadelphia Flyers season ticketholders has agreed to settle with the team’s owner, Comcast Spectacor, and a division of the National Hockey League in a putative class action in which the ticketholders alleged Comcast breached its contract when it forced them to buy tickets to the NHL Winter Classic game separately and at a significantly higher price.
According to the class action stipulation of settlement filed Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, eligible class members will have the option of choosing, per each season ticket package they purchased, either the “orange voucher,” which is worth $45 toward concessions at the Wells Fargo Center, or the “black voucher,” which has an estimated cash value of $75 and can be redeemed for either an on-ice holiday photo of the ticketholder and six guests or the opportunity to post a personalized message on both the scoreboard during an NHL game and the Xfinity Live board following the game.
Alternatively, under the proposed settlement terms, according to the stipulation, two black vouchers can be redeemed for a piece of game-worn memorabilia mounted on a plaque.
According to the stipulation, the aggregate value of the vouchers is estimated to be between $625,500—calculated at about $45 per season ticket—and $1.1 million, calculated at about $75 per season ticket.
According to the complaint in Phillips v. Comcast Spectacor, originally filed in the Mercer County Superior Court of New Jersey in May 2012, Flyers fans who bought the full 44-game season ticket package for the 2011-12 season tickets only received 43 tickets.
Lead plaintiff Joyce Phillips, for example, paid $4,180 plus a $10 processing charge for her 44-ticket package, but only received 43 tickets, according to the complaint.
Not included in the packages were tickets for the Jan. 2 game against the New York Rangers, which was billed as the Bridgestone Winter Classic and was held outdoors at Citizens Bank Park, a 43,651-seat baseball stadium that is more than twice the size of the Wells Fargo Center, where the Flyers normally play their home games and which Comcast Spectacor also owns, according to the complaint.
The complaint alleged that Comcast Spectacor had competed with other owners in the NHL for the right to host the Winter Classic and that the company knew or had reason to know that the game would likely be held in Philadelphia before it entered into agreements with season ticket purchasers, but either concealed or failed to disclose that information.
Instead, the company sent out 43-ticket packages with a mock Winter Classic ticket and a statement notifying season ticketholders that they would have to purchase Winter Classic tickets separately at a higher price than the other regular season tickets as well as at higher processing fees than they had paid for their entire season ticket packages, the complaint alleged.
The company also made it mandatory for season ticketholders who purchased Winter Classic tickets to purchase tickets to the Dec. 31 “Alumni Game” and a Jan. 6 minor league game between the Adirondack Phantoms and the Hershey Bears, conditions that were not imposed on anyone else who purchased Winter Classic tickets, the complaint alleged.
According to the complaint, Comcast Spectacor offered to refund Phillips $95—1/44 of the price of the season ticket package—despite the much higher cost of the Winter Classic, Alumni Game and minor league game tickets.
In a second amended complaint filed in April, after the case had been removed to federal court, the plaintiffs alleged defendant NHL Enterprises, the licensing and merchandising arm of the NHL, negotiated with Comcast to have the Flyers host the Winter Classic, knowing that the Flyers had already sold or committed to sell full season ticket packages.
“Despite NHL Enterprises’ knowledge of the agreement, NHL Enterprises entered into the NHL Enterprises-Flyers agreement with the Flyers and set the prices for the Winter Classic tickets at prices higher than those set forth in the agreement between the Flyers and plaintiffs and the class,” the plaintiffs alleged in the amended complaint.
In its motion to dismiss the amended complaint, filed in June, Comcast argued that because the Winter Classic game replaced one of the Flyers’ 44 regular home games, it had refunded season ticketholders the price for a ticket to one regular game.
In addition and although it had no obligation to do so, Comcast argued in its motion, the company purchased at face value enough Winter Classic tickets from the NHL to offer to season ticketholders, at an additional cost, as part of a package that included two other events.
“Plaintiffs now complain that they were contractually entitled to a ticket to a 44th game as part of their full season ticket packages, and that they were damaged by the Flyers’ failure to provide a 44th ticket even though plaintiffs were refunded or given credit for the full ticket price for a game included in the full season ticket package,” Comcast said in its motion.
In its own motion to dismiss the amended complaint, also filed in June, the NHLE argued that the plaintiffs failed to “even attempt to allege any facts to show that NHLE (a) induced the Flyers to breach any purported contract through improper means, (b) acted with malicious intent, (c) received any benefit from plaintiffs, or (d) was motivated by anything other than its legitimate business interests.”
Plaintiffs counsel, Evan Barenbaum of Stern & Eisenberg in Warrington, Pa., said Thursday that the settlement was “a fair and expeditious result for the class that brings them a direct benefit.”
Barenbaum and his partner, Richard Stern, handled the case along with Jack W. Lee, Derek G. Howard and Glicel Sumagaysay of Minami Tamaki in San Francisco, and Gil D. Messina and Timothy A.C. May of Messina Law Firm in Holmdel, N.J.
Counsel for Comcast, John B. Kearney of Ballard Spahr in Cherry Hill, N.J., could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday afternoon.
Counsel for the NHLE, Shepard Goldfein of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom in New York, declined to comment.