Patriots, StubHub end legal battle

By Colman Herman and Bruce Mohl

The New England Patriots and the online ticket marketplace StubHub Inc. have ended their bitter and costly legal battle over ticket resales.

NE_logo-80x90 The two parties filed a stipulation of dismissal in Suffolk Superior Court on July 1, ending a bid by the football team to prohibit StubHub from offering fans an online marketplace where they could buy and resell Patriots tickets at whatever prices they want. The Patriots insist their tickets are revocable licenses that can only be bought and sold with the team’s permission.

Patriots spokesman Stacey James and StubHub spokesman Sean Pate both said in statements that the settlement agreement was confidential and that the case had been resolved to the “mutual satisfaction” of the two parties. Their comments indicated the nearly three-year-old case hadn’t changed either side’s views on ticket resales.

“The settlement does not change in any way the Patriots’ policies prohibiting the resale of tickets to Patriots home games, or the Patriots’ ability to enforce those policies,” James said. Indeed, the Patriots are continuing their lawsuit against Steven and Carol McGrath of Bridgewater for allegedly reselling Patriots tickets on StubHub at inflated prices.

Pate of StubHub said: “The settlement will not change our business model. StubHub supports the independent marketplace for ticket sales.”

On StubHub’s website, the company is currently offering tickets to a November 8 Patriots game against the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium at prices far in excess of face value. For sideline seat tickets with a face value of $169, StubHub was offering tickets at prices ranging from a low of $442 to a high of $648.

One person familiar with the wrangling between the team and the San Francisco-based ticket marketplace owned by eBay called the settlement an acknowledgment of a legal stalemate. This person said both sides were spending an enormous amount of money on legal fees but making little headway. The person said he suspected Robert Kraft, the Patriots owner who filed the initial legal salvo in the case, decided it was too costly to continue.

Brockton attorney David Sorrenti, who represents the McGraths, said the case clearly did not turn out the way the Patriots had hoped. “The Patriots spent hundreds of thousands of dollars, maybe more, on the case, but it looks like they didn’t get what they wanted,” he said, adding that he hoped he could also reach a settlement for his clients with the team.
 
The Patriots-StubHub case has attracted national attention. Most professional sports teams have jumped into bed with ticket resellers, and most states have done away with laws restricting ticket resales. Major League Baseball, for example, signed a partnership deal with StubHub, and the National Football League signed a similar deal with Ticketmaster.

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

The Patriots have stubbornly refused to go along. The team regularly revokes the season tickets of fans caught reselling their tickets. It has also been adamant that any resales should be handled by the team through its TicketExchange program at prices not exceeding face value, plus a service charge.
 
The case against StubHub, filed just before Thanksgiving in 2006, was an attempt by the Patriots to rein in one of the nation’s biggest online venues for ticket resales. StubHub responded by countersuing, accusing the Patriots of trying to monopolize the resale of the team’s tickets.

The case took an interesting turn in late 2007, when the Patriots succeeded in obtaining the names of 13,000 people who sold or bought the team’s tickets using the StubHub website. The team indicated it might revoke the season tickets of any fan on the list, but no major crackdown occurred.
 
Like the Patriots, Massachusetts is also an outlier on ticket resales. While most other states have relaxed or eliminated their laws against ticket resales, Massachusetts continues to cap  ticket resales at $2 above face value plus certain business expenses. The law is rarely enforced and widely ignored, a fact that prompted Beacon Hill lawmakers in 2007 to push for legislation that would have allowed resales at any price. The legislation passed the House but then died when the Boston Globe reported that a group of ticket resellers in Massachusetts had hired a close friend of then-House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi to advise them.