Saturday, January 15, 2011

You Can't Sit There! UVA's Ticket and Seating Policy for Men's Basketball Games Called into Question

Jeff Eisenberg of Yahoo! Sports has a great piece on a UNC hoops fan who bought a $100, 2nd row seat at a UNC-UVA game played in Charlottesville VA, but because he was wearing a Carolina blue coat and because the section was primarily intended for UVA fans and athletic staff, he was told he could not sit in the seat he purchased.

He was escorted out of the section -- which I imagine could have been embarrassing -- and dispatched to a different and not as good seat, where his school's colors were apparently less offensive.

Should he have been forced to change seats merely because he was supporting the opposing team? Even as a UVA alumn, I say no.

Here's an excerpt from Eisenberg's story:
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Before the 46-year-old Arlington, Va. resident had time to remove his Carolina blue coat, a security guard approached and told Demery he couldn't sit in that section of John Paul Jones Arena wearing Tar Heels colors. Soon afterward, another Virginia staffer asked to see his ticket to verify that it was legitimate. And finally, associate athletic director Jason Bauman escorted Demery from his seat and relocated him to another seat 17 rows higher in the lower bowl.

"I couldn't believe it," Demery said. "I'm sitting there hoping to enjoy the game courtside and I thought it was going to work out great and in a matter of 15 minutes, it changed. I just was shaking my head thinking, 'How is this possible? How are they allowed to get away with this?'"

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Michael McCann, director of the Sports Law Institute at Vermont Law School, said that Demery's contractual rights may have been breached if the ticket he purchased didn't stipulate that he could not sit in the seat unless he was a Virginia fan. McCann also said relocating Demery may have been a First Amendment violation since Virginia is a public school and has less authority to regulate speech than a private institution.

"A fan who wears the 'wrong' team's shirt should probably not be excluded from a particular seat that he has legally purchased," McCann wrote via e-mail. "Sure, schools can encourage fans of one team to sit in certain sections, but they probably can't sell a ticket and then revoke its conditions because the ticket-buyer happens to be a fan of the other team."

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To read the rest, click here.

To expand my comments, while colleges clearly have "some" authority to regulate the conduct of fans and what's known as fans' "cheering speech" (i.e., how fans cheer, either for or against a team/player - a topic which Howard has written about), their use of that authority has to be carefully drafted. For instance, if fans excessively and loudly spew out profanities at games, and there are kids around, their First Amendment rights may be trumped by various concerns, including those based on security. Plus, those fans would likely have violated the terms of their ticket admission by being so disruptive.

But merely wearing the opposing team's colors? Come on. Hard to see how that can be regulated without providing notice to ticket buyers in advance.

It's disappointing that a school founded by Thomas Jefferson, of all people, would take this approach.