Monday, August 20, 2018

No Sitting Together at the Ballpark, Not for You Wheelchair Boy: The Great Companion Controversy of Anaheim and the ADA Resolution That Followed

The curse started for me over half a century ago when my dad took me to my first Angels game at the brand new Anaheim Stadium in 1965. That game impressed upon me so much that they became my team and I was an Angel fan for life.

Sure, they were the second tier team in town. Walter O'Malley had brought his Dodgers to Los Angeles a few years earlier from Brooklyn. They owned L.A., and still do to this day. Although I enjoyed seeing Dodger games in L.A., they always seemed a bit uptight to me and didn't quite click

It was the Angels with their underdog status and the team's laid back approach to pleasing their fans at the stadium that somehow wooed me. It sure wasn't their winning ways...the team was a perennial loser, no matter how much money the team's owner, singing cowboy Gene Autry, would throw at a superstar in the twilight of his career to come play here...but it was still a great place to go see some baseball and have a good time.

"Win one for the cowboy" would just be an empty phrase as long as he was alive. Sure, they came within striking distance, making the playoffs in 1979, 1982, and within one strike of going to the World Series in 1986 until closer Donnie Moore threw a beach ball to Dave Henderson who knocked it out of the park. 

After the Cowboy died and the Disney Corporation took over the team, they finally put it together to win their lone world championship in 2002.

My wife and son caught the dreaded Angel fan bug from me. We used to go to about a dozen Angel games a year. We had no problems with wheelchair and companion seating until Arizona billboard magnate Arte Moreno bought the team in 2003. After that, since they’d recently won a World Series and (in their words) tickets were at a premium, they enforced the companion seating policy as was written in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) at the least one companion seat for each ticket sold upon request. They would not sell a third and I could not even get an extra ticket anywhere close.

I complained to the team and we had several long discussions with them about it and they wouldn’t budge but they were within the letter of the law so what could I do?

When the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) was asking for suggestions on how the ADA could be modified and refined in 2008, I sent them a letter about could it be OK for an able bodied person to buy as many tickets as they want together but accessible seating was, in effect, limited to two tickets? Thus, my suggestion was heard and a new modification to the ADA went into effect...teams and other public performance venues now had to sell at least 3 companion tickets to each wheelchair ticket when requested. 

Once this was coded into the ADA and the date had passed so that it was in effect, I tried to buy a wheelchair ticket and two companion tickets to a game. I was told only one companion seat would be sold, just like before. It’d been years of wrangling with them. I was through, I turned it over to the DOJ.

You could imagine my surprise when they assigned it to an attorney that worked down the hall from me at my office where I worked at the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles. It caused a little consternation at first because I was a DOJ employee but I reminded them that I didn’t give up my rights when I came into work. 

They agreed and did a ‘soft’ litigation...basically informing the Angels of the law. The Angels said a mistake was made when I tried to buy tickets and that they were in full compliance. The attorney asked if I could go to a game and report back to him what happened.

(At this same time, the Angels had just settled a full blown lawsuit that a fan filed for the same reason because they only built in one companion space for the only two wheelchair seats that they had in the club level, a popular premium level for fans)

I went to buy tickets as was told that in the section we wanted to sit in (left field, cheap seats), that we were required to buy their “all you can eat” package. I argued but that’s all they would sell me. We went. There was a snack bar ten feet behind our seats. I went. Was told the “all you can eat” snack bar was in another location on the top deck of the stadium...three levels above us.

Back at work, I informed the attorney. He unleashed some hell on the team and also found out that in the section we were in, only the wheelchair row was required to buy the food package.

That was the last time we went to a game there, four years ago. The DOJ got the Angels to stop the food package practice and all compliance had been adhered they told me.

Today will be our first time back. We’ll see how it goes. We'll let you know in this week's Fields of Dreams post on Wednesday.

On a side note, the team fired their VP in charge of ticket policy and sales. They also fired their attorney who, as was unofficially told to me by very informed sources, cost the team over $4 million in fighting these various actions. I’m told he now is the team attorney for the Jacksonville Jaguars football team.

Always try to work it out ahead of time but if it comes down to it, here's a link that tells you how to file an ADA complaint.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2018 - All Rights Reserved

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