The Miami Dolphins are informing some of their season ticket holders they will not be allowed to renew their memberships for 2016 because those fans re-sold a majority of their tickets on secondary markets in the past.
This is the second year the team is using this approach to weed out what it believes to be professional brokers who in the past have bought swaths of seats on a season ticket basis and re-sold them to out-of-town buyers who are typically fans of Dolphins' opponents. This year, however, the program is affecting fewer season ticket accounts but is identifying more than merely brokers.
This year the program is identifying fans that for whatever reason have decided to sell their seats rather than use them. The Dolphins want to give current season ticket members the first option to sit in those seats through the renewal process.
"We want to protect our most valuable fans, provide them opportunities to get better seats and defend our home field," Dolphins senior vice president and chief marketing officer Jeremy Walls in a statement to The Miami Herald. "We are doing this so we can create more access and a better stadium experience for our true members. However, if there are extenuating circumstances or we make an error with our real fans, we will work to accommodate them on a case by case basis.”
The Dolphins are not the only professional team that does this. The NHL New Jersey Devils, for example, have done this in the past.
But the approach raises questions about how the team monitors the activities of its season ticket members and whether or not those members can do with their tickets whatever they wish because, after all, the Dolphins sold the tickets and they belong to the fans who purchased them.
Nonetheless, the team insists privately that it understand fans may sometimes resell their tickets out of choice or extenuating circumstances and it will try to work with fans flagged as having sold their seats "too often" -- a term not defined by the team.
Ultimately the team says, it wants to promote a greater game environment for all fans and a better home field advantage for the home team. This season the Dolphins are 5-8 and 2-3 at Sun Life.
Fans who contacted The Herald unsolicited to reveal the Dolphins' practice were not happy, with one saying his season-ticket representative seemed to point a finger at him for the Dolphins struggling.
"He actually told me that my activity was hurting the home field advantage," the season ticket member said. "My family scraped together enough money for three lower bowl season tickets four years ago and I usually sell a couple of games to offset the renewal cost. This year, we had a change of work schedule and we couldn't get to as many games as we wished so I obviously sold them. Now, they are giving us the boot.
The thing that ticked me off was that it came across like the rep was blaming season ticket holders for the home losses. If the Dolphins put a better product out on the field more home fans would go to the games. Plus, the Dolphins have no idea who is sitting in my seats or what team they are rooting for. They very well could be Dolphins fans. The thing is it was only this season where we couldn't make most of the games. For the previous years we made at least five regular season games per season. And this year they even took away one home game, which ironically, we were free to attend had it been in Miami."
It is true the Dolphins forfeited a home game at Sun Life in favor of a "home" game against the New York Jets in London. Fans were not charged for that game. The purpose of that move was ostensibly to qualify to host future Super Bowls -- as the league asks teams trying to land a Super Bowl to agree to playing a game in London within years of that Super Bowl.
But it is also true not every fan contacting or contacted by The Herald was upset by this policy.
"I sit in a section that is supposedly sold out on season ticket basis so I expect to sit among Dolphins fans," said another season ticket holder. "But I get to the game and look around and there's a bunch of Giants jerseys in my section. And I look around the stadium and there's a bunch of Giants fans or Cowboys fans cheering when their teams score or stops us. That's not a home field advantage. That's like a neutral field. So anything the team can do to improve the home edge, I'm fine with that.
"I'm glad they're doing this. If you're going to buy tickets, go to the game. If you can't go, don't buy."