Saturday, July 24, 2004

Bengals' club seat arbitration blocked


Fans claim harassment after canceling tickets

By Kevin Aldridge
Enquirer staff writer

An appeals court Friday gave a boost to club seat owners at Paul Brown Stadium who say they were improperly billed thousands of dollars by the Bengals after trying to cancel season tickets.

The Ohio 1st District Court of Appeals temporarily blocked a judge's order that the dispute go to arbitration instead of trial. The season-ticket holders want a trial and have appealed.

The appeals court said it will move quickly to hear that appeal. In the meantime, the Bengals were told not to communicate with the ticket holders, including any efforts to collect payment.

"There are important legal rights involved in this case and it should not be resolved by strong-arming people," said Janet Abaray, attorney for the ticket holders. "It's very intimidating for people to get a letter in the mail from a major corporation saying that you owe thousands of dollars."

Abaray has filed a lawsuit on behalf of the season-ticket holders. It accuses the Bengals of changing the process that required club seat owners to buy season tickets for up to 10 years. The suit also alleges that the Bengals harassed fans who canceled season tickets by mailing letters telling them they owed thousands of dollars.

Bengals spokesman Jack Brennan declined comment Friday.

However, Bengals attorneys have argued that the club seat licenses include language requiring club seat season-ticket holders to commit to buying their tickets for six, eight or 10 years. The Bengals said those fans received a discount on the ticket price for doing so.

Club seating offers padded chairs in choice field locations in addition to in-seat food and beverage service and access to a club lounge before and after the game. Season tickets range from $995 to $1,995 per club seat.

Last month, Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Robert Ruehlman sided with the Bengals by sending the lawsuit to arbitration. The Bengals had argued the team's contract with season ticket holders stipulates that all disagreements would be settled through an arbitrator.

The Bengals were sued in 2001 by season-ticket holders who said they received less desirable seats than promised. That lawsuit was settled for $6 million and a promise from all season-ticket holders that all future disputes would go to arbitration.

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E-mail kaldridge@enquirer.com




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