Jeffrey Loria may be riding off into the sunset with $1.2 billion freshly minted bills stuffed into his pockets, but Derek Jeter's new ownership group has serious repair work to do with a battered and cynical fan base. One of his most pressing questions will be whether to continue pursuing the lawsuits that Loria's regime filed against at least nine former season ticketholders who walked away from multiyear packages.
And now one of those fans is fighting back. Mickey Axelband, a longtime fan whom the Marlins sued in 2015, has filed a counterclaim against the team alleging deceptive practices because the Fish failed to follow through on a number of promises made to season ticketholders when Marlins Park opened.
"Marlins fraudulently induced Axelband and other season ticket holders into buying premium seats... by providing brochures and having slick sales pitches of promises of premium seating, premium food, and complimentary drinks, only to remove these amenities once the season began," reads the counterclaim, filed Saturday by Daniel Rose, Axelband's attorney.
The Marlins' attorney, Kenneth Chase, declined to comment on the counterclaim. A spokesperson for the team didn't immediately respond to questions about whether Jeter's group planned to continue pursuing the lawsuits.
Axelband, a local veterinarian, is a longtime Marlins fan. He'd held season tickets since the inaugural 1993 season at Dolphin Stadium and bought a luxury package for the new Marlins Park for its inaugural season in 2012 despite the fact that he lives more than 60 miles away, near Delray Beach.
He says he signed up in part because of the team's promises: The Fish touted a special, easy-access area in the parking garage for quick entry and exit, plus a premium buffet during the games, so he wouldn't have to worry about finding dinner on game nights.
But the team's first year at Marlins Park quickly went south. Loria fired first-year manager Ozzie Guillen and unloaded much of an expensive new roster by the All-Star Break — and also, Axelband says, saved money by taking away all of those fan perks. So rather than renew the $24,000-per-year package for two seats, Axelband tried to walk away from the second year of his promised two-year deal.
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Loria's team sued in 2015, part of a spate of lawsuits against season ticketholders, luxury box owners, and vendors — many of whom, like Axelband, say they were misled by the team's promises of what they'd get at the new ballpark.
The team's lawsuit remains open, but this past Saturday, Axelband's attorney filed a counterclaim making that exact argument: that Axelband had been persuaded to sign the two-year deal only because of promises the team later broke. Citing the parking and the buffet — which by season's end had turned into a single "six-foot panini sandwich" — Axelband says the Marlins are the guilty party.
"It was the Marlins who breached their contract and it was the Marlins who were guilty of deceptive and unfair trade practices," his counterclaim reads.
Axelband is asking for Judge Jose M. Rodriguez to order the Marlins to pay his attorney's fees and any reasonable damages.