TRENTON, N.J. (CN) – New Jersey’s high court rejected a challenge Tuesday against how the NFL apportioned tickets to the 2014 Super Bowl, making fans compete for just 1 percent of tickets in a public lottery.
The Third Circuit had asked the New Jersey Supreme Court to rule on the issue as it weighs a complaint by a member of the public who paid $4,000 for two seats to the game held that year in East Rutherford.
In the underlying suit, Josh Finkelman claimed that the NFL’s policy of hoarding Super Bowl XLVIII tickets for league insiders meant that his seats cost more than twice the face value of $800 apiece.
More than 82,000 fans attended Super Bowl XLVIII at MetLife Stadium, a game where the Seattle Seahawks thumped the Denver Broncos 43-8.
The NFL has said it awarded each of the two teams 17.5 percent of the tickets. It then doled out the rest to other NFL teams, broadcast networks, companies and other VIPs. Because fewer than 800 tickets were earmarked for the public lottery, prices ultimately skyrocketed as tickets hit the secondary market.
Finkelman claimed in his class action that such conduct amounted to a breach of New Jersey’s Ticket Resale Law, which mandates that at least 5 percent of tickets to a show or event be publicly available.
The Garden Stater had filed his suit several times, only to see it dismissed again and again for failing to state a claim. In 2017, however, the Third Circuit revived the suit and asked the New Jersey Supreme Court to weigh in on whether the amended complaint had standing under state law.
During arguments last year at the high court, Bruce Nagel of Nagel & Rice argued for Finkelman that New Jersey’s law is simple: any event held in New Jersey must make 95 percent of all tickets available to the public.
Several justices raised questions during the hearing, however, about whether the 5 percent rule applied to all tickets to an event or merely all those considered available.
The New Jersey Supreme Court was unanimous Wednesday that the tickets kept for the lottery were the only ones meant for release to the general public.
“When the NFL made one percent of those 2014 Super Bowl tickets available for sale to the lottery winners it ‘released’ those tickets for sale,” Justice Anne Patterson wrote for the court.
Nagel blasted the decision.
“This opinion is the most anti-consumer decision in decades,” Nagel said. “The legislature passed the law requiring all promoters of events in New Jersey to sell 95 percent of all tickets to the public to insure public access to good seats at face value, and now our Supreme Court has eliminated that protection. The ruling is illogical and ignores the plain meaning and intent of the statute.”
The 19-page ruling notes that, as difficult as it is to score Super Bowl tickets in the NFL’s lottery, nothing guarantees a fan the opportunity to buy tickets at face value.
“Nothing in [the ticket law] or its legislative history suggests that in order for a release of tickets to constitute a ‘release for sale to the general public,’ tickets must be available to any member of the public who wants to purchase them,” Patterson wrote.
She added that state legislators never intended the “draconian measure” of automatically setting aside 5 percent of any event’s tickets automatically be set aside for the general public. Doing so would prevent setting aside playoff tickets for season-ticket holders or prime theater seats to subscribers, she wrote.
Patterson also emphasized that Finkelman bought his tickets from a resale, not the lottery. “Those tickets were never destined to be part of a public sale,” she wrote.
Jonathan Pressment of Haynes & Boone represented the NFL but did not return an email seeking comment. The league meanwhile lauded the court today for finding that its “distribution of Super Bowl XLVIII tickets was in full compliance with applicable law.”