By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
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By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
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By Melanie Asmar
The football season may have ended in January, but the Denver Broncos began running a new play on March 5. That's when team lawyer David A. Bailey signed and mailed form letters threatening legal action to 100 of the football team's richest fans. The recipients had all missed the February 1 deadline to make the first payment on the second year of their multi-season contracts for seats in the exclusive Club Level at Invesco Field at Mile High.
The seats, advertised as "the ultimate in luxury seating for those who do not desire a private suite, but desire an enhanced game day experience" are a new amenity offered by the team after its move from Mile High Stadium. What sets the Club Level apart from general admission are carpeted halls, padded chairs, a separate entrance, TV lounges with full bars, and unspecified "upscale concessions to complement traditional stadium cuisine."
More than 10 percent of the seats at Invesco Field -- 8,800 out of 76,000 -- are on the two-tiered Club Level, which is located between the first and second levels of general-admission seating areas. Sold in three-, five- or seven- year contracts only, Club seats cost five to ten times what season tickets with similar sight lines did at the old Mile High.
"It's not worth the money the way it is now, not even close," says Denver real estate investor Don Olguin, who has a seven-year contract for a Club Level seat on the forty-yard line. "I had basically the same seat at Mile High for about $500 a season before. Now I'm supposed to pay $5,000, which is a ripoff. I bought into this deal sight unseen, based on their promise that I would be receiving premium service and amenities. But that's not the reality of the situation. The reality is that I'm getting no extra service, and my beer line is twice as long. They said they'd serve premium food, but they're usually down to hotdogs by halftime. And on top of all that, I have to wait in line for ten minutes to go to the bathroom. This is my 'unique and exceptional game day experience?' I don't think so."
When he received an invoice for the 2002 season in January, Olguin ignored it, as he did a "friendly reminder" that arrived in the mail three weeks later. A third notice in February prompted an angry call to the Broncos' head office. "I told them, 'The Club seats are not what you told me they were, and I'm not sending you my renewal payment until you show me a floor plan for new bathrooms that will be approved and get done over the summer. Their response was, 'We're getting a lot of complaints, and we're working on it.' Well, them working on it and me sending them $5,000 are two different stories. I said, 'You didn't honor your end of the agreement, so why should I honor mine?'"
One week later, Olguin got a form letter from lawyer Bailey, who works for Stadium Management Company, a private firm hired by the Broncos to manage and staff the stadium. The letter invited Olguin to take a close look at the provisions in Section 14 of his contract: "Default and Remedies."
"The Club Seating at the Stadium did not completely sell out during the past season," the letter reads. "Maintaining the contractual commitments of the current Club Seat account holders, while continuing to market the remaining Club Seats, is a key business objective." Then the letter gets to the point: "To avoid further action related to your account, the initial payment must be received by March 15, 2002."
"I didn't respond," Olguin scoffs, "and I won't respond unless they threaten me again, and then I'll get my attorney involved, because they breached the contract first."
Other Club-seat owners who received Bailey's letter have echoed Olguin's criticisms of the Club Level and his determination not to pay the Broncos, lawsuit be damned.
One, who asked to remain anonymous, tried to get out of his contract after being promoted to a job in St. Louis. "When I called them saying, 'Look, I got transferred, and I'm not really happy with your amenities anyway,' their response was, 'Tough luck -- give us your money or we'll send you to the lawyer.' I was like, 'Fine, bring it on,'" he says, adding that he was finally able to sell the tickets to a co-worker. "The Club seats are priced just low enough that a guy who's a big football fan could get suckered into one, thinking he's splurging to get something really special. I'm lucky, because I'm out from under this mess, but I am completely on the side of the other private individuals who bought Club seats, because the amenities pretty much suck. You have to wait in lines for the bathroom all the time, and you have to eat hotdogs because they run out of food. They half-assed it all the way, and now they're going to sue anyone who wants out? That's bullshit."
Broncos officials favor the carefully measured language of diplomacy in responding to complaints by Club Level holdouts, who number "right around 100," according to Joe Ellis, vice president of business operations for the team.