Daniel Snyder can cross one item off his list of legal controversies to resolve before he sells the Washington Commanders.
On Monday, Washington D.C. Attorney General Brian Schwalb announced the Commanders will return over $200,000 to D.C. residents impacted by allegations that the team “systemically failed to return ticket holders’ deposits” and made getting refunds for deposits unnecessarily difficult. According to a person familiar with the litigation, the deposits ranged from the hundreds of dollars to the thousands, and the average was about $1,200.
The Commanders, through the corporation that owns it (Pro-Football Inc.), will also pay the district $425,000 for restitution, attorneys’ fees and costs associated with the investigation. Further, the team will permit the Attorney General’s office to maintain “strict oversight” of how the it conducts its refunds.
D.C. accused the Commanders of committing unlawful trade practices in violation of the D.C. Consumer Protection Procedures Act. Starting in 1996, before Snyder bought the team, the Commanders required ticket holders to put down security deposits on multi-year contracts for premium seating. The team has allegedly refused to return those deposits despite contractual guarantees of a refund within 30 days following the expiration of a contract. The team allegedly held onto some deposits for years.
The Commanders are also accused of creating “additional, extra-contractual requirements” that made it even more of a hassle to get a refund. Those seeking a refund “had to submit a signed written request,” D.C. claims, even though their contract for tickets didn’t require such a step. The Commanders also allegedly failed to tell those seeking a deposit refund of “post-hoc requirements” as grounds for refusal.
“Rather than being transparent and upfront in their ticket sale practices,” Schwalb said in a statement, “the Commanders unlawfully took advantage of their fan base, holding on to security deposits instead of returning them.”
Neither the Commanders nor Snyder admit to any wrongdoing.
“No part of this settlement,” a consent order submitted to a D.C. Superior Court reads, “shall constitute evidence of any liability, fault, or wrongdoing by Defendant. Nothing contained in this Consent Order is or may be construed to be an admission by Defendant of any violation of law or regulation, of any other matter of fact or law, or of any liability or wrongdoing.”
D.C. is separately suing the Commanders, Snyder and commissioner Roger Goodell over alleged collusion to deceive D.C residents about a sexual assault and workplace misconduct investigation into the team. The team and league are armed with defenses, including that, as private entities, they have no duty to disclose investigative materials to fans and that even if they do possess such a duty, it’s speculative to conclude fans would have become less likely to buy tickets or support the team if they knew more about the investigation.
The expected sale of the Commanders, which could go for more than $6 billion, remains a work in progress, and the buyer or buyers will require league approval. Snyder has sought indemnification from the league to cover potential legal costs after he sells the team, but that request faces long odds.
The sale could conclude sooner than the most worrisome legal controversy for the team and Snyder: a criminal investigation by the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia into possible fraudulent practices.
(This post has been updated in the second paragraph to include additional details on payments to individuals.)