Sunday, November 23, 2008


As teenagers growing up in northern New Jersey, my friends and I would regularly hop the Lakeland Bus for the 45-minute ride into Manhattan. There we would catch the subway up to the Bronx and get off at Yankee Stadium.

We'd purchase the cheapest box seats we could get our hands on. Occasionally, however, by the time the fourth or fifth inning rolled around, we'd notice that some of the better, more expensive seats closer to the field were unoccupied. We'd make our way down the stadium steps and plunk ourselves into seats that were beyond our means but were more suited to our desired view.

Only once did an usher ask to see our tickets -- in that case, it turned out, the seats' rightful occupants had simply gone on a beer run and been upset to find their seats usurped. We didn't get kicked out of the park, though, simply sent back to our cheap seats.

Christie Coombs of Orange, Calif., can afford more expensive seats to sporting events than I could as a teenager, but she nonetheless found herself in a similar situation recently.

"I bought the most expensive daily seat for a day at a tennis tournament," she writes, "and the seat was so high that I almost needed binoculars."

The best seats in the front sections are often gobbled up by sponsors, she says, but nonetheless go empty. Toward the end of the day, Coombs and some friends moved down to sit in the most expensive seats.

"I felt guilty," she writes, "but they were great seats."

Coombs knows that it's wrong to sit in seats you didn't pay for, she says, but she thinks it would be nice if sponsors would release any seats they don't plan to use so that others can be allowed to move into them. At another tournament she attended, the public-address announcer told spectators that they were welcome to move down into the empty seats in front.

But when no such go-ahead is given, Coombs wants to know, "Is there any harm in moving into the empty seats?"

Ideally, organizers would make an announcement when it's OK to move forward, but it may be that they don't do so for fear of a stampede of fans.

Absent such an announcement, the ticket you buy entitles you to sit in the seat printed on the ticket. It is not a license to use that seat as a base from which to secure the best seat you can find. You have, therefore, no right to sit in a better seat, regardless of whether or not that seat is empty.

Rights and opportunities are two different things, of course. So long as you don't buy the cheaper seats solely with the intention of sneaking into the more expensive ones once you're inside, I say no harm, no foul in taking an opportunity to move into empty seats for a better view, if such an opportunity arises.

You might, of course, ask an usher if it's OK to move into the empty seats, or you might simply take your chances. Remember, though, that if told by the usher that moving is not permitted, or if ejected from seats you've moved into without tickets, you are not being treated unfairly. You don't have a right to those seats, and you aren't being deprived of what's rightfully yours.

The right thing is to go to the event with the intention of staying in the seats you've paid for. If you see empty seats further forward, however, it's not wrong to move.

Some venues may have a policy of evicting any fans who try to move to better seats. That's their privilege, of course, and, so long as the policy is clearly stated, you should comply with it. If caught in seats not your own, you should leave the stadium quietly.

At a time when revenues are paramount and those revenues are driven by fan satisfaction, however, that's a silly policy, if you ask me. As long as the fans are willing to move back to their seats when asked, why not let them enjoy the game?

c.2008 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Some rather large boisterous guys had taken our sports seats and told us tough luck when we spoke up. By their threatening looks and innuendo, we didn't dare get the ushers as we were afraid of revenge. However, others around us did speak up and cheered when these drunks left to grab up some other 'open' seats. We were thankful but constantly looked over our shoulders throughout the game and ended up leaving early because we were so nervous. Just stay put, people!