Ravens' PSLs not license to sue Many restrictions in six-page document sent to potential buyers

February 22, 1997|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,SUN STAFF

If you buy a Ravens permanent seat license, you will: have to buy a ticket to every home game the team plays, including playoffs; give the team $50 before selling the license to your neighbor; and agree not to sue if a drunk knocks you down a flight of stairs in the upper deck.

And if, by chance, the Ravens leave Baltimore, you won't get your money back.

The fine print of the Ravens' controversial seat-licensing plan has finally gone out to potential buyers. The six-page, densely written document covers everything from the team's potential relocation -- an eventuality rendered unlikely by its 30-year stadium lease -- to who can sue whom in the event you slip on a melted ice cream cone.

"Subject to the terms of this Agreement, the Seat Licenses granted to the Licensee by Licensor entitle Licensee to purchase the number of Season Ticket (s) for the designated Stadium Area shown on Exhibit A."

Huh?

Team spokesman Kevin Byrne said the Ravens have gotten some calls from people put off by the document, but no indication it will prompt a mass desertion of fans. The paperwork began arriving in fans' homes last week.

There isn't a lot of time to study the document, or raise the money. The first payment, 40 percent of the total, was due last month. The next payment, representing 30 percent of the license and a quarter of this year's season tickets, is due March 15. The rest must be paid by March 1998.

Byrne, who acknowledges that the contract forms are "not Hemingwayesque," said the complexity is a function of the cost and long-term nature of the agreement. The seat licenses average $1,100 each.

"It's protection for people investing their money. They deserve to know fully what they are getting into," Byrne said.

Giving away or selling the license, for example, is governed by a whole page of restrictions. Transfers outside of the immediate family are prohibited before April 1, 1999, unless the license-holder dies, is transferred out of town, or meets a few other exceptions. This is to give the team a chance to sell its stock of licenses. The new stadium is scheduled to be open for the 1998 season.

Even after 1999, a license cannot be sold more than once in a year, and the team will limit the number that can be hoarded by any one buyer. The team will require a $50 transfer fee each time a license is sold or given away.

Under the Ravens' plan, similar to those being used in cities newly acquiring NFL teams, fans get no interest payments. They also will have their licenses revoked if they fail to buy a season ticket in any year.

The license holder even has to pay for the repairs if he or she breaks the seat.

Some fans have bought licenses in hopes that they will eventually grow in value. This is risky: The resale value will depend on factors outside the owner's control, such as the team's won-lost record, the price of season tickets in the future, and the precise location of the seat, which fans won't know until after paying.

In fact the contract warns -- in boldface, capital letters -- against moving your retirement nest egg into seat licenses: "NO ONE SHOULD ACQUIRE OR PAY ANYTHING OF VALUE FOR A SEAT LICENSE FOR ANY PURPOSE OTHER THAN THE ACQUISITION THE RIGHT TO PURCHASE SEASON TICKETS TO NFL GAMES PLAYED AT THE STADIUM."

An indemnification paragraph also tries to disabuse fans of the notion that the Ravens will be a deep-pocketed target for lucrative lawsuits. By signing the contract, the fan agrees to assume all risks including "spills of food or beverage and the unruly behavior of other patrons," among other things.

Jan Stiglitz, a professor at the California Western School of Law at San Diego and an expert on sports law, said the team is taking advantage of the existence of a contract to insulate itself from the liability risks faced by all teams.

Judges often ignore the boiler-plate indemnification agreements printed on the back of tickets, on the theory that fans haven't really agreed to the language. But putting it in a contract that must be signed is another matter, Stiglitz said.

"Generally speaking, you can, by contract, waive your rights to sue someone," Stiglitz added.

There are limits on how far the protection will go, however. A friend who buys your ticket, as well as children and guests you bring to a game, won't be signatories to the contract, Stiglitz said. And contract writers have to carefully craft the language: If it is too vague, it won't be enforced; if it's too specific, matters left out may be deemed uncovered.

Also falling into the category of unforeseen circumstances is a sentence in which the license buyer agrees not to sue the team should the Ravens "not play its home games in the Stadium or in Baltimore for any reason."

Byrne said the item is not a suggestion the team is moving back to Cleveland. The contract with Maryland is binding for 30 years. But the future is hard to predict, Byrne said.

"I assume the league is going to be in business for another 30 years," he said.

Facts on Ravens' seat licenses

Cost: $250 to $3,000 each

Licenses for sale: 62,000

Licenses ordered so far: 47,000

Proceeds if all licenses sell: $68.4 million

Locations remaining: $35 end zone, $45, goal-line seats in upper deck

Renewal rate: 85 percent of 1996 season-ticket holders have committed to the new stadium.

Club seats sold: 7,800 (100 percent)

Sky boxes leased: 82 of 101

Unsolicited season-ticket requests: 500. Only season-ticket holders have been offered tickets for the next two years. Sales will be opened to the general public later this year.

Pub Date: 2/22/97

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