Marlins Threaten to Sue Longtime Season-Ticket Holders Who Complained About View-Obscuring Sign

First the Marlins alienated every taxpayer in Miami with their stadium deal. Then they pissed off every casual fan with a mass offseason firesale. Now the team is burning bridges with the only true-blue Fish fanatics left -- longtime season-ticket holders.

That's how Jan and Bill Leon are feeling, at least. The couple has paid tens of thousands for front-row season tickets since 1998. But last year, after the team installed an obtrusive billboard that blocks their view and dangerously obscures ground balls, the Leons asked to move into a different section. Their reward? A lawsuit threat.

Update: The Marlins say that they've offered the Leons "numerous opportunities" to change seats, but say they can't do anything about the advertising sign. Click through for the team's full statement. 

"They've pooped on fans' feelings for years," Jan Leon says. "These seats are not what we paid for."

Jan and Bill Leon may have seen more Miami baseball in person than Billy the Marlin. The couple are baseball fanatics -- Bill used to coach elite teenage club teams -- passionate enough about the game to sit through dozens of rain delays each summer at Sun Life Stadium. They attended every World Series game during the good years and plenty of sweaty 95-degree blowouts in the bad years.

"I'd go to 81 games a year if I could," says Jan Leon, who estimates she attends at least 40.

So when the Marlins moved to their new home in Little Havana last year, the Leons -- who own a real estate company -- made what they thought was a verbal agreement with a sales rep: They'd buy a two-season package (for $25,000 a year) with the option of changing seats after the first year if they didn't like them.

When Leon first visited her new seats, she loved them. Here's the view she had at the first games:

Nice, right? Problem was, midway through the season the Marlins decided to up their revenue stream by adding a billboard to the third-base line. Atop the board sits a couple of feet of green foam. And suddenly, Leon's great view wasn't so great anymore:

Those TV cameras all move by gametime, but Leon says the padding obscures the entire third-base side of the field unless you lean all the way up to the concrete. Even worse, it hides hard-hit foul balls that often pop right up off the warning track into the seats.

"You have a split second before it hits you," she says. "It's extremely dangerous."

The Leons complained immediately and asked the Fish to replace the sign with a smaller, digital version. Their letters and calls went unanswered, she says. So when the season ended, she let the sales staff know they wouldn't pay for their second season's seats unless they were moved farther down the third-base line, away from the sign.

"They wouldn't do it," she says. "We're just tired of fighting constantly over our view being blocked and our safety endangered."

So the longtime season-ticket holders gave the team an ultimatum: Move them to a different pair of seats along the third-base line, or they wouldn't pay for a second season. Here's how the Fish responded:

Leon Letter

"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."

Riptide sent the Marlins' media reps an email to get their side of the story, but they haven't responded. We'll update the post if we hear back.

Update: The Marlins sent Riptide a statement about the Leons' complaints, saying they've offered the couple other seats but can't move the sign along the third-base line. Here's the full statement:

Fan comfort is of utmost importance to us. We go above and beyond to ensure our fans have a great experience at Marlins Park. We have offered Ms. Leon numerous opportunities to move to a different seat location, and each time she has refused to move. Unfortunately, we are not in a position to relocate the advertising signage that she alleges is blocking her view of certain plays near third base. We would be happy to assist Ms. Leon in relocating her tickets to seats that do not have this allegedly obstructed view. We value our fans and will continue to do our very best to offer them a wonderful baseball experience.

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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink