NEWARK, N.J. (CN) — The New Jersey Supreme Court picked apart a state law Thursday to decide whether the public had been defrauded when it came to tickets for the first Super Bowl played outdoors in a cold-weather city.
“Is there a more public event than the Super Bowl?” asked Bruce H. Nagel, an attorney for a class of football fans who says the NFL’s ticket-hoarding efforts caused them to pay inflated prices on the secondary market.
Lead plaintiff Josh Finkelman brought the underlying suit four years ago after he paid $2,000 a pop — more than twice the face value — for a pair of tickets to Super Bowl XLVIII.
MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., which hosted the big game on Feb. 2, 2014, holds 77,500 seats.
Because the NFL made just 1 percent of tickets available to the public, however, that meant fans like Finkelman had to compete for a sparse 775 tickets, a number that Finkelman said fell far short of the 5 percent required by the New Jersey Ticket Law.
The Third Circuit revived Finkelman’s suit last year, but it invited the New Jersey Supreme Court to rule on whether Finkelman’s amended complaint has standing.
Nagel, for the law firm Nagel & Rice, told that court Thursday that New Jersey’s 2009 statute is simple: any event held in New Jersey must make 95 percent of all tickets available to the public.
“It shall be an unlawful practice for a person, who has access to tickets to an event prior to the tickets’ release for sale to the general public, to withhold those tickets from sale to the general public in an amount exceeding 5 percent of all available seating for the event,” says the law, which is currently in the process of being amended.
Justice Jaynee LaVecchia pushed back somewhat against Nagel. “You’re putting a lot of weight on the word ‘all’ and not a lot on the word ‘available,’” LaVecchia said.
Justice Anne M. Patterson attempted to clarify meanwhile what tickets the statue referred to in describing 5 percent.
“Is the word ‘tickets’ referring to all the tickets, or just the the tickets released,” Justice Patterson said. “Doesn’t that imply that the same tickets?”
Jonathan D. Pressment, an attorney for the NFL with the firm Hanes & Boone, argued that it is no secret that the NFL uses a lottery system rather than release all of its tickets to the public.
Justice Barry T. Albin questioned the difference between a ticket lottery and people waiting outside in a line for hours trying to get a ticket.
“The lottery is a contest, it offers fans an opportunity to purchase tickets,” said Pressment. “When people camp out for tickets, they have control of what time they show up and how long they wait.”
Rounding out today’s hearing were Justice Lee Solomon, Justice Walter F. Timpone, Chief Justice Stuart Rabner and Justice Faustino J. Fernandez-Vina. Though they pressed both attorneys on what percent of tickets found their way to the secondary market, neither could attest to the number.
Over 70 percent of the tickets for the 2014 Super Bowl, which remains to be the only Super Bowl held in New Jersey, went to team in the league, media and other insiders.
The lawsuit could bring millions in damages to the NFL pending the court’s decision.