Ohio resident Mark Alessandro insists he isn’t a professional broker, just an “avid sports fan’’ who travels heavily for work and offsets season-ticket costs for multiple teams by reselling most of them.
But when NHL Seattle last month began removing suspected broker names from its list of 32,000 season-ticket deposits, Alessandro’s two reservations were canceled and refunded without explanation when he didn’t immediately return messages left by the team. Alessandro, who likely was flagged for his past sales by Ticketmaster software used to cull the team’s list, said by email he frequently attends out-of-town sporting events and had he acquired NHL Seattle tickets he’d “attend a few games but sell the majority.”
Former Tacoma resident Rick Sanders, now living in Texas, had a happier outcome after he said an NHL Seattle representative told him by phone he “wasn’t a normal ticket purchaser’’ and his two deposits would be revoked. Sanders began protesting on Twitter, after which he said the team reversed its decision and explained a “Seattlehockeytickets’’ gmail account he’d used to make the deposits — so-named to more easily track future correspondence — got him flagged for possible broker activity.
The cases are a reminder that sports fans don’t have to be actual brokers for teams to view them as such; many fans, especially out-of-towners, are increasingly having season tickets revoked for reselling with impunity on platforms like StubHub and SeatGeek. NHL Seattle plans to make depositors — who will begin selecting seats this fall — more aware of future resale restrictions in coming weeks, though Alessandro and Sanders’ experiences suggest anyone planning to heavily offset season packages through a ticket-selling side business is in for a rude awakening.
A statement released this week on behalf of NHL Seattle by spokesperson Katie Townsend said: “We understand that our season-ticket members may, on occasions, want or need to share or resell their tickets, and we are focused on making that experience safe and secure.”
Townsend declined to discuss specifics on Alessandro and Sanders. The statement said NHL Seattle pulled “known broker” deposits to better serve fans wanting to watch the team. “Our goal is to create an arena filled with passionate NHL Seattle fans,” she said.
NHL Seattle CEO Tod Leiweke told The Seattle Times last month that if brokers “want to buy two or four season tickets and keep their priority, fine. But the idea of blocks of tickets — and there are different ways they do it, manipulate the system — we’re going to try not to let that happen.’’
NHL Seattle has since clarified Leiweke’s statement, saying only brokers “in the Puget Sound region” can keep two season tickets apiece for personal use.
In pulling Alessandro’s deposits, NHL Seattle defined him as a “known broker” despite his having no apparent company or website devoted to ticket sales and his insistence he’s just a fan subsidizing costs of seats he paid for. But NHL teams these days are increasingly ignoring such differentiation in a league where even die-hard fans have long relied on resale to offset hefty season-ticket costs and difficulties attending all 41 regular-season home games.
Teams have revoked seats from fans reselling beyond certain thresholds. Or, restricted such sales to team websites and approved partners.
And it’s all perfectly legal, with courts routinely upholding that sports tickets are a “revocable license’’ with no ownership rights transferred to fans.
StubHub in 2015 filed an antitrust lawsuit arguing the NBA’s Golden State Warriors “conspired to fix the resale marketplace’’ by forcing fans to resell only through their Ticketmaster partner. But a judge dismissed the case, ruling the Warriors enjoy a “native monopoly’’ in the sale of their tickets.
The Tampa Bay Lightning, under then-CEO Leiweke, were among the first NHL teams to restrict resale during the 2015 playoffs to help limit visiting team fans. They blocked fans without a Florida driver’s license from purchasing seats on the club’s Ticketmaster exchange and threatened to revoke season tickets from anyone bypassing the rule while reselling on other websites.
The following season, the Lightning placed restrictions within season ticket-holder agreements warning that reselling more than half their packages could result in cancellation.
Other teams followed with similar restrictions — some more definitive than others.
For instance, the Florida Panthers make fans sign an agreement stipulating “the spirit of owning season tickets is not to generate a financial gain or benefits to you’’ and they can be revoked if “a majority’’ are resold.
But the league’s most recent expansion squad, the Vegas Golden Knights, imposed more vague restrictions ahead of their 2017-18 debut stating “the spirit of being a season-ticket member is to support the team and not generate financial gain.” Hundreds of season-ticket holders had seats revoked for exceeding an unspecified “excessive resale” threshold after visiting teams’ fans routinely piled into T-Mobile arena.
Sports teams generally tolerate some resale as long as season-ticket holders attend most games to help maintain a “home” advantage. But teams also have financial motive — beyond protecting their house — to go after fans using season tickets as profit vehicles.
Season tickets can be discounted up to 30% off single-game prices. But when taking season tickets away, teams can dynamically price them as single-game seats for whatever the market commands.
Therefore, some teams would rather jettison season-ticket holders that act like brokers and earn those same high profits themselves.
And that’s why, despite many fans believing that revoking tickets from brokers helps lower prices, the opposite has often been true — especially in the National Football League, where teams have aggressively pulled accounts for years.
According to New York-based Ticket IQ, which has software tracking the nation’s secondary market, the number of NFL seats being listed on resale websites has declined 57 percent since 2013 as teams took back control of more tickets. But over that same time frame, with greater resale-ticket scarcity, the average asking price jumped from $205 to $269.
Ticket IQ president Jesse Lawrence said NFL teams also became increasingly creative at direct-to-consumer sales of single-game tickets through primary platforms such as Facebook, or websites they and their partners control — selling for as much or close to secondary-market pricing.
Still, Lawrence isn’t opposed to teams making more off their own tickets. Especially if, as NHL Seattle claims to be doing, it provides hometown fans more access.
NHL Seattle for now is merely bumping people off a list — not revoking tickets — so there’s no added financial motive there. And by scrutinizing out-of-town deposits, it could ensure more tickets for local fans better positioned to attend more games.
Lawrence was impressed by how the Knights policed resale to benefit home fans and feels Seattle’s startup franchise will follow a similar path. He particularly liked the Vegas team’s “Knights Vow’’ loyalty pledge during the 2018 playoffs, when season-ticket holders received discounted seats if agreeing not to resell them.
“The tail shouldn’t wag the dog,” Lawrence said. “They’ve limited the secondary market so that they can get tickets into the hands of real fans.”
Exactly what NHL Seattle says it’s now doing, even as it mulls how far to take things down the road.