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49er fan sues NFL for $50M over fair access to Seattle playoff tickets; claims discrimination

RENO, Nev. - John E. Williams III has been a San Francisco 49ers fan since John Brodie was throwing touchdown passes at Candlestick Park in the 1970s. So he was excited about the prospects of scoring a ticket to make the trip to Seattle in January to watch the rivals battle in the NFC Championship Game.

But the Las Vegas man says in a $50 million lawsuit against the NFL that his hopes were dashed by the league and others he accuses of engaging in "economic discrimination" with an illegal ticket policy limiting credit-card sales to selected pro-Seattle markets. His lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas says it was part of an effort to keep 49er fans away and further promote the Seahawks' boisterous home-field advantage at CenturyLink Field.

"They're always boasting up there about their 12th player and everything else," Williams told The Associated Press on Friday. "But by allowing the NFL to decide who can or cannot attend the games, you make it an unfair game. Seattle fixed it."

Williams, who works as a promoter in the entertainment industry, said that because the NFL relies heavily on public subsidies and money from taxpayers to build stadiums. it should not be allowed to deny ticket sales to individuals on the basis they are "not from an area determined by the team — or the NFL — to be fan of that team."

"'The practice of withholding the sale of tickets from the public at large and allowing only credit card holders limited to certain areas is a violation of the Federal Consumer Fraud Act and/or common law," according to the lawsuit filed April 15.

In the case of January's game, the Seahawks limited ticket sales only to credit cards with addresses in the states of Washington, Oregon, Montana, Idaho, Alaska and Hawaii, as well as the Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Alberta.

As a result, he said, he suffered "economic discrimination and violation of public accommodation solely" because his credit card was not issued in the restrictive states or Canada — "which is not even part of the United States."

"This selected process is contrary to the spirit of the NFL and contrary to public accommodation," said Williams, who is seeking $10 million in punitive damages on top of $40 million in real damages.

Brian McCarthy, the NFL's vice-president of communications, said the league has no comment on the lawsuit.

Officials for California-based Ticketmaster, which is now part of Live Nation Entertainment Inc., and the Seattle Seahawks did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Williams said he had made up his mind that if San Francisco beat the Carolina Panthers in a semifinal game, he was going to buy tickets to the NFC title game in Seattle for himself, his roommate, a girlfriend who lives in Canada and her daughter.

San Francisco beat Carolina 23-10, then lost at Seattle 23-17.

"I live in Las Vegas, but I'm originally from San Francisco. I've seen John Brodie back in the day, and Joe Montana. I really wanted to go up there to see the Niners," Williams said. "I think the tickets should be sold on a first-come, first-served basis, not based on who they want in the crowd."

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