This year’s Hall of Fame Game will be remembered much longer than any of its predecessors that actually were played.
A quartet of customers have filed a class action against the NFL and the Pro Football Hall of Fame (technically known as “National Football Museum, Inc.”) in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio.
The class representatives include Matthew Crabb, a disabled Iraq veteran who lives in Indiana, and Tiffany Ratcliff, a Virginia resident whose husband took leave from the U.S. Navy to attend the game with her. The other class representatives, Alan Biland and Carmelo Treviso, traveled to the game from Wisconsin.
Beyond the issue of the game cancellation, the lawsuit also focuses on a Super Bowl XLV-esque failure to install sufficient seating for the game, resulting in Ratcliff and others not having seats to go along with their tickets.
The complaint contends that the problem that led to the cancellation of the game arose from the late removal of decking from the playing surface, which caused delayed painting of the end zone lettering and midfield logo. When the grounds crew noticed the paint wasn’t drying quickly enough, they applied heat to the paint. That resulted in the melting of the rubber pellets in the FieldTurf, creating the “congealed” areas on the playing surface.
Roughly 2.5 hours before kickoff, the crew applied a substance aimed at resolving the problem. The only problem? An employee of the Packers noticed that the label on the product warns that it burns skin on contact.
The complaint alleges that the Hall of Fame/NFL didn’t tell the customers about the cancellation of the game until 8:00 p.m. ET, at least 80 minutes after the decision was made to pull the plug. During that time, fans spent money on food and other items in the stadium were the game ultimately wasn’t played.
The lawsuit seeks recovery of out-of-pocket costs for tickets, which for some fans may have exceeded the face value of the tickets; lodging and travel expenses; costs associated with items purchased on the day of the game, including items purchased after the game had been cancelled but before the fans were told about the move; and lost employment hours for fans who took time off to attend the game.
For now, the lawsuit contains only a claim for breach of contract. Further legal theories could be added, based on the information obtained during the discovery process.
Even if the case isn’t certified to proceed as a class action, there will be plenty of claims pursued individually.
“Thus far, we have been retained by fans who travelled from 14 different states,” Avenatti told PFT.
To date, the Hall of Fame has offered only to reimburse fans for the face value of tickets purchased to the game.
“NFL & Roger Bonaparte would rather pay their lawyers millions than pay fans what they deserve,” Avenatti added on Twitter. “$14B in rev and $45M/yr in comp isn’t enough? . . . Hard working people and vets lose $$$ attending the HOF game and the NFL and Roger Bonaparte say ‘let them eat cake’! Pure greed. Not right.”
The Super Bowl XLV litigation didn’t get much media or fan attention, in the grand scheme of the endless NFL news cycle. Since then, however, public opinion has shifted away from the league office in a significant way, punctuated by acrimony arising from the lockout, the Saints bounty scandal, the Ray Rice incident, and #DeflateGate. This time around, the NFL could be facing much greater pressure to make things right by fully and completely compensating those who showed up for a game that wasn’t played not due to an act of God but as a result of incompetence.