Yes, you read that headline right. The Miami Marlins, a Major League Baseball team, are suing nine of their season ticket holders and two vendors.
Miami sits at 23-21 this season and is fourth place in the National League East, three and a half games back of the 27-18 Washington Nationals. The Marlins are averaging 20,508 fans per game, which puts them at 26th out of the 30 MLB teams in terms of average attendance.
Those numbers aren’t terrible for at team that 71-91 and 19 games back of first in their division last year. However, the number that is bad is the number nine.
The Miami New Times is reporting since 2013 the Marlins have sued at least nine season ticket holders and luxury suite owners. That comes at the same time the team is in the middle of two court battles with a pair of stadium vendors. The two vendors are claiming the Marlins promised them big crowds at home games and due to the lack of attendance, their businesses suffered.
“You bamboozled us for this ballpark and now you have the audacity to sue a small businessman?” Rene Prats, who went into bankruptcy after his Sir Pizza franchises failed at the ballpark, said. “I lost it all. I lost my business. And you’re coming after me?”
That’s just what the businesses suing the Marlins had to say. But what about the ticket owners who Miami is suing?
“I was a pretty hard-core fan,” Mickey Axelband, a former season ticket holder, said. “I was there for some great moments and a lot of the big lows, too. But I stuck by the team because it’s baseball, and I love the game.”
Last year, Axelband apparently backed out of his two-year season ticket deal, according to the Marlins. That’s why they’re suing him.
“I wasn’t shocked, just disappointed,” Axelband told the Miami New Times. “After all these years, I wondered, why now?”
The Marlins, who declined to speak with the New Times for their story, are stating in court that they are business owners who have been “burned.”
“The on-field product hasn’t always been great, but it’s really just the customer experience that’s the problem. It’s horrible,” said Axelband. “The ownership is just horrible.”
The bad customer service experience started before the stadium opened too.
Marlins Park, which cost $634 million to built and was opened in March of 2012, was the center of major public funding controversies before it hosted its first baseball game.
In August of 2010, Deadspin obtained and reported the Marlins’ recent financial documents. They detailed the team and owner Jeffrey Loria had more money than they had previously told the city they had. What this meant was that the Marlins and Loria could’ve contributed more money to the stadium’s construction than they had claimed.
Here’s the breakdown of who spent what to build the stadium:
Miami-Dade County: $367.3 million – 59.4%
City of Miami: $132.5 million – 20.9%
Miami Marlins: $125.2 million – 19.7%
Total Cost: $634.0 million
In short, the customer experience got off to a rough start before the stadium opened.
When Axelband bought his season tickets, he was promised many things by the Marlins: first-floor parking in the stadium garage, a special VIP private entrance, pre- and postgame buffets for season ticket holders, and much more. However, he later told the New Times only the lounge was mentioned in the contract. All of that totaled up to $24,000 per year for two seats ($148 per seat per game). As a result, Axelband signed up for a two-year deal.
By halfway through his first season of his season tickets, here’s what was left of the Marlins promises: the buffet for the first six innings of every game and it only featured the same panini every day. The parking spaces and private entrance were gone to save money.
“That’s exactly what we paid all the extra money for,” Axelband said. “I didn’t want my money back or anything, but I said, ‘Please give me back the stuff you promised.’ The answer I got back was basically, ‘Yeah, we know we took it all away, but tough shit.'”
This all happened the very first year Marlins Park opened. With a month left in the season, Axelband said he called the team to cancel his ticket package. The contract was ended and until June of 2013, Axelband figured everything was okay. Then, the Marlins began to sue people.
In June of 2013, the Marlins filed a lawsuit against Total Bikes LLC, a local Ducati dealer that had ended its agreement for a suite. The team then sued Castle Investments of Brickell, who also backed out of a suite deal. After that, more companies and the first couple fans.
This type of litigation isn’t ordinary, but thee have been recent instances of teams suing companies and ticket holders. According to the New Times, the Los Angeles Dodgers sued actor Jon Lovitz and producer Steve Marlton for not paying for season tickets. In 2008, the Washington Redskins threatened to sue 125 season ticket holders who couldn’t pay for their tickets during the economic recession, although Washington later decided not to sue.
“I’m not sure the Marlins thought this through,” Darren Heitner, a Fort Lauderdale sports law attorney and Forbes contributor told the New Times. “If you’re contemplating getting season tickets, now you’re worried you won’t get everything you bargained for and you even might end up in litigation.”
At the end of the day, it’s not terribly surprising that all of this is happening in Miami after the stadium funding fiasco in 2010.
“I’m not asking them for anything except to drop the suit… just to say, ‘Hey, we realize we messed up and we’re sorry,'” Axelband said. “I’ll still go to games, I’ll still be a fan. I’m rooting for the guys in the uniforms, not Loria.”