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The Marlins lawsuits against season ticket holders continue apace


Last year we passed along a story from the Miami New Times about the Miami Marlins’ pattern of suing their season ticket holders. As of that writing the Marlins had initiated litigation against at least nine of them, accusing them of reneging on multi-season ticket commitments. The ticket holders, for their part, typically argued that the Marlins did not fulfill promises to deliver certain amenities like private parking and post-game buffets.

At the time we noted that while the Marlins may have been within their rights to sue over broken contracts, it was unusual for a team to sue their ticket holders. It’s bad P.R. for one thing. For another, it seemed shortsighted in that some sort of customer service solution — Player meet-and-greets? Merch? on-field access? — may have caused the ticket holders to recommit and continue to fill the Marlins’ coffers. Did the Marlins have to do that? No, not if they had an enforceable contract, but it seemed like a better solution.

Fast-forward a year and we see that, no, settling these things amicably was not to be. That’s especially true with respect to one former season ticket holder who is having some commercial property foreclosed on by the Marlins to satisfy their judgment. From the New Times:

Loria’s team is suing a fan named Kenneth Sack in Broward County Courts to seize a $725,000 building he owns in Oakland Park — all as part of the same ugly dispute that has led the team to sue at least nine season ticket holders and luxury suite owners since 2003 . . . Sack signed a four-year contract for season tickets in 2012 at $16,200 per ticket for a total price of $129,6000. Sack, who lives in Colorado but has a home in Palm Beach, paid the full $32,400 for the first season but then wanted to walk away. The team sued him in December 2014 for the remaining $97,200.

Now, before you get the pitchforks out for Jeff Loria, it’s worth acknowledging that Mr. Sack here appears to be a sophisticated businessman who owns commercial property and who splits time between Miami and Colorado. And, of course, he is able to devote $129K to baseball tickets at the drop of a hat. He’s not a poor family being put out on the street.

It also seems that the Marlins got this judgment by default, with Sack missing hearings and deadlines and things. Sack’s lawyers say it’s because he had a heart attack, but without meaning to sound callous, legitimate health problems are always going to entitle you to get a civil case like this put on hold. At least if you take the minimum basic steps to inform the court that you need a delay. Seems that Sack didn’t do that and now the Marlins are doing what they’re allowed to do to execute their judgment.

Still, I can’t shake the notion that the Marlins seem to be the only team that so enthusiastically pursues litigation like this. I suspect a lot of it has to do with the fact that most teams don’t worry too much about a season ticket holder walking away from a commitment, secure in the knowledge that someone else will step up to take their place. The Marlins, in contrast, probably don’t have a huge demand, largely by virtue of decisions its ownership has made over the years. There’s also the fact that Jeff Loria is not exactly a guy who has demonstrated much concern for his fans wherever he’s done business. If there’s a hostile way to solve a problem, by gum, he’ll take it.

It strikes me that, rather than litigation, some other sort of resolution could’ve been achieved here. It also strikes me that, once the Marlins are finally sold, everyone will be much, much happier.


Wayne Huizenga, founding owner of the Marlins, dies at 80

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MIAMI (AP) H. Wayne Huizenga, a college dropout who built a business empire that included Blockbuster Entertainment, AutoNation and three professional sports franchises, has died. He was 80.

Huizenga (HY’-zing-ah) died Thursday night at his home, Valerie Hinkell, a longtime assistant, said when reached at the family residence Friday. She gave no details on a cause of death.

Starting with a single garbage truck in 1968, Huzienga built Waste Management Inc. into a Fortune 500 company. He purchased independent sanitation engineering companies, and by the time he took the company public in 1972, he had completed the acquisition of 133 small-time haulers. By 1983, Waste Management was the largest waste disposal company in the United States.

The business model worked again with Blockbuster Video, which he started in 1985 and built into the leading movie rental chain nine years later. In 1996, he formed AutoNation and built it into a Fortune 500 company.

Huizenga was founding owner of baseball’s Florida Marlins and the NHL Florida Panthers – expansion teams that played their first games in 1993. He bought the NFL Miami Dolphins and their stadium for $168 million in 1994 from the children of founder Joe Robbie, but had sold all three teams by 2009.

The Marlins won the 1997 World Series, and the Panthers reached the Stanley Cup Finals in 1996, but Huizenga’s beloved Dolphins never reached a Super Bowl while he owned the team.

“If I have one disappointment, the disappointment would be that we did not bring a championship home,” Huizenga said shortly after he sold the Dolphins to New York real estate billionaire Stephen Ross. “It’s something we failed to do.”

Huizenga earned an almost cult-like following among business investors who watched him build Blockbuster Entertainment into the leading video rental chain by snapping up competitors. He cracked Forbes’ list of the 100 richest Americans, becoming chairman of Republic Services, one of the nation’s top waste management companies, and AutoNation, the nation’s largest automotive retailer. In 2013, Forbes estimated his wealth at $2.5 billion.

For a time, Huizenga was also a favorite with South Florida sports fans, drawing cheers and autograph seekers in public. The crowd roared when he danced the hokey pokey on the field during an early Marlins game. He went on a spending spree to build a veteran team that won the World Series in the franchise’s fifth year.

But his popularity plummeted when he ordered the roster dismantled after that season. He was frustrated by poor attendance and his failure to swing a deal for a new ballpark built with taxpayer money.

Many South Florida fans never forgave him for breaking up the championship team. Huizenga drew boos when introduced at Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino’s retirement celebration in 2000, and kept a lower public profile after that.

In 2009, Huizenga said he regretted ordering the Marlins’ payroll purge.

“We lost $34 million the year we won the World Series, and I just said, `You know what, I’m not going to do that,”‘ Huizenga said. “If I had it to do over again, I’d say, `OK, we’ll go one more year.”‘

He sold the Marlins in 1999 to John Henry, and sold the Panthers in 2001, unhappy with rising NHL player salaries and the stock price for the team’s public company.

Huizenga’s first sports love was the Dolphins – he had been a season-ticket holder since their first season in 1966. But he fared better in the NFL as a businessman than as a sports fan.

He turned a nifty profit by selling the Dolphins and their stadium for $1.1 billion, nearly seven times what he paid to become sole owner. But he knew the bottom line in the NFL is championships, and his Dolphins perennially came up short.

Huizenga earned a reputation as a hands-off owner and won raves from many loyal employees, even though he made six coaching changes. He eased Pro Football Hall of Famer Don Shula into retirement in early 1996, and Jimmy Johnson, Dave Wannstedt, interim coach Jim Bates, Nick Saban, Cam Cameron and Tony Sporano followed as coach.

Harry Wayne Huizenga was born in the Chicago suburbs on Dec. 29, 1937, to a family of garbage haulers. He began his business career in Pompano Beach in 1962, driving a garbage truck from 2 a.m. to noon each day for $500 a month.

One customer successfully sued Huizenga, saying that in an argument over a delinquent account, Huizenga injured him by grabbing his testicles – an allegation Huizenga always denied.

“I never did that. The guy was a deputy cop. It was his word against mine, a young kid,” he told Fortune magazine in 1996.

Huizenga was a five-time recipient of Financial World magazine’s “CEO of the Year” award, and was the Ernst & Young “2005 World Entrepreneur of the Year.”

Regarding his business acumen, Huzienga said: “You just have to be in the right place at the right time. It can only happen in America.”

In September 1960, he married Joyce VanderWagon. Together they had two children, Wayne Jr. and Scott. They divorced in 1966. Wayne married his second wife, Marti Goldsby, in April 1972. She died in 2017.

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