(Jan Leon, via Miami New Times)
Baseball's Miami Marlins have a history of shooting themselves in the foot when it comes to their public relations.
But the Florida team have reached a new low after they threatened a lawsuit against season-ticket holders who complained the team obstructed their front-row view with a billboard. The green padding, about seven inches of it, can be seen by comparing the two photos above.
Jan and Bill Leon told the Miami New Times that they paid $25,000 for two seats along the third-base line for the inaugural season at Marlins Park in 2012, but the team put up a billboard at mid-season that blocked part of their view and put them in greater danger regarding foul balls.
Requests made by phone and letter asking the team to move their seats to a new location, or to have the billboard shortened, went unanswered, the Leons said. So when the season ended, the Leons informed the Marlins they would not be returning for another year (their agreement was for two seasons) unless their complaints were addressed. And they wouldn't be paying unless the Marlins did.
"They've pooped on fans' feelings for years," Jan Leon says. "These seats are not what we paid for."
The part about not paying must have gotten the Marlins attention, because on March 8the Leons got a response — a letter from Derek Jackson, the Marlins' vice president and general counsel.
He said nothing about the billboard dispute, but did say the Leons were contractually obligated to buy a second season. If they didn't pay by later this month, the Marlins would "reserve any right to pursue any and all appropriate legal and equitable remedies available to it at that time under the Premium Seat Agreement and under the law." Plus interest, collection costs and legal fees, if appropriate. Blah, blah, blah.
Here's the entire letter:
That's typical for team owner Jeffrey Loria, who has taken from fans at every opportunity, whether it's ballpark financing or having a fire sale of the team's best players, or years of not spending money on payroll previously.
The contract the Leons signed probably does require them to buy two seasons of Marlins baseball (oh, boy). And just by looking at the photos, I'm not 100 percent sure how much their enjoyment of the game was affected by the top seven inches of the billboard. I don't know, I've never sat in those seats. But it's possible a judge would find for the Leons — and I base that mostly on the Marlins usually taking the wrong course of action.
This afternoon, after the New Times' initial report was published, the Marlins responded with a statement, in part saying:
"We have offered Ms. Leon numerous opportunities to move to a different seat location, and each time she has refused to move."
That's different from what the Leons said. If the Marlins are telling the truth, the Leons might have a tougher case — although it could be argued that the seats they paid for were not the seats they ended up getting, no matter if they move or not. We also have this statement from Jan Leon:
"I have no intention of renewing," Leon says. "They're a Double A team now. It went down the toilet when they sold off all the players."
She's referring in part to the massive trade with the Blue Jays that sent Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle away. It would be funny for this to go to court and have the Marlins argue that the real reason the Leons didn't want to renew was because the Marlins sold off their best players.
Would a jury side with the season-ticket holders on the basis that the Marlins breached their contract, not only with the billboard — or maybe not at all with the billboard — but instead the destructive transactions? Such a trial would be an angry fan's dream. The Marlins would be foolish to let it get to that point. Which means they just might.