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Did MLB cheat its ticket-buying fans? Nope, judge rules

The Dodgers and the Brewers play in Game 2 of the MLB Wild Card playoffs at an empty Dodger Stadium.
The Dodgers and the Brewers play in Game 2 of the MLB Wild Card playoffs at an empty Dodger Stadium.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

In April, as the days and weeks passed without baseball, a core of fans grew increasingly agitated. Major League Baseball had called off games, and fans with tickets to those games could not get their money back.

The league, its teams and ticket providers were sued. Six months later, a U.S. District Court judge in Los Angeles has all but killed the suit, ruling last week there is no evidence of illegal behavior.

As MLB monitored coronavirus developments in assessing when the 2020 season might start, the league advised teams to list unplayed games as postponed, not canceled. In turn, teams advised fans to retain tickets and await a rescheduled date.

The suit alleged a conspiracy among MLB, the teams, Ticketmaster and StubHub, but Judge Dale Fischer wrote that the “plaintiffs themselves appear to be confused about what exactly the conspiracy was.” Although the central allegation was that games were postponed instead of cancelled to avoid refunds, Fischer wrote, the plaintiffs contended that the league, its teams and its ticket partners “conspired together to cancel and reschedule games” and “conspired to limit the supply of games to be played with fans in attendance.”

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By July, when MLB filed its response to the suit, an abbreviated season was underway, and every team had offered ticket refunds or credits to fans. Fischer noted that each of the six fans who had sued the league “has received a full refund or credit.”

Fischer ruled that out-of-state clubs should not be liable for the alleged violations of California law, and that claims against the Dodgers, Angels, Padres and MLB should be thrown out because none of the plaintiffs bought tickets from those entities, and because of the failed conspiracy theory.

Fischer also ruled that the two fans who had bought tickets from the Oakland Athletics were required to take up any dispute in arbitration, not in the courts. She had previously made a similar ruling for fans who had bought tickets from StubHub and Ticketmaster.

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Fischer ruled that the San Francisco Giants’ arbitration clause was not enforceable, because the fan had bought a theme night ticket through a third party. The Giants claimed the terms of their ticket contract applied, but Fischer said those terms had been incorporated into the third-party sale “without notifying users if such terms even existed or where they could be found.”

That ruling led Fischer to explore whether the plaintiffs had presented evidence of violations of California’s laws against unfair and deceptive consumer practices. Fischer found none and threw out the case against the Giants as well, although she gave the plaintiffs until Nov. 2 to find a more compelling way to prove their case.

Peggy Wedgsworth, a lawyer representing the fans who filed suit, said in a statement that the court rulings illustrate what she called “the inherent difficulties for consumers.” She said fans “should simply be entitled to get their money back without jumping through legal hoops or the myriad of roadblocks instituted by defendants” and said the need for fans to pursue their own arbitration actions make it “virtually impossible for the individual consumer to have access to justice.”

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MLB declined to comment.


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