Miami Marlins Threaten to Sue Longtime Season-Ticket Holders

First the Marlins alienated every taxpayer in Miami with their stadium deal. Then they pissed off every casual fan with a mass offseason fire sale. 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 to different seats. Their reward? A lawsuit threat.

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

The Marlins counter that they've offered the Leons "numerous opportunities to move to a different seat location" and that the legal threat is a last-ditch effort to enforce a contract.

Either way, it's a sad end to a longtime baseball love affair. Jan and Bill Leon may have seen more live Miami hardball than Billy the Marlin. The couple 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 usually 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 if they didn't like them.

When Leon first visited her new seats, she loved them. For a few games, they were perfect. But then the Marlins upped their revenue stream by adding a billboard to the third-base line. Atop the board sits a couple of inches of green foam — enough to obscure the entire third-base side of the field from the seats. Even worse, it hides hard-hit foul balls that often pop up off the warning track into the seats. "It's extremely dangerous," she says.

The Leons 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. So the longtime season-ticket holders gave the team an ultimatum: Move them to a different pair of front-row seats, or they wouldn't pay. The Fish's response? A two-page letter from an attorney named Derek Jackson promising to pursue "any and all legal... remedies" if they didn't pay up.

In a statement, the team says it offered to move the Leons but can't move the sign. The team also disputes the ad is a danger to fans. "Fan comfort is of utmost importance to us," the statement reads. "We have offered Ms. Leon numerous opportunities to move to a different seat location, and each time she has refused to move."

Leon acknowledges those offers but says none of the alternatives has been front row. "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."

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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