As it was then, and so it is now, we here at Abnormal Use care deeply about college football. Avid readers may recall or our 2011 post discussing a parking fee dispute that arose between the University of South Carolina and a fan that purchased a lifetime membership into the Gamecock Club. While a clever revenue raiser, lifetime memberships are a challenge because they, well, last a lifetime. So it is no surprise that a dispute over the Gamecock Club’s lifetime membership once again makes its way through the South Carolina judicial system. That case is Lee v. University of South Carolina, et. al., No. 2012-212567 (S.C. April 2, 2014), released yesterday by the South Carolina Supreme Court.
The facts were these: In 1990, George Lee III purchased a $100,000 life insurance policy, naming the University of South Carolina the sole beneficiary, in exchange for an opportunity to purchase basketball and football tickets for the duration of Mr. Lee’s life. In an effort to generate more revenue, the University instituted the Yearly Equitable Seating (YES) program and began requiring all Gamecock Club members to pay a seat license fee prior to purchasing season tickets. Mr. Lee did not care for the seat licensing fee and filed a declaratory judgment action. The trial court entered judgment for the University of South Carolina and the Gamecock Club, but yesterday, the South Carolina Supreme Court reversed the trial court, finding that the University breached its 1990 Agreement with Lee by requiring Lee to pay the YES fee in order to retain the opportunity to buy tickets. The Court in reaching its conclusion found that:
The language of the Agreement is clear. As long as Lee performs his contractual obligations, the University must provide him with the “opportunity to purchase” season tickets to University athletic events as described in the Agreement. The Agreement contains no limitations or conditions on this contractual right. Thus, by requiring Lee to pay the seat license fee before purchasing season tickets, the University has attempted to impose an additional term that the parties did not agree upon. This unilateral attempt to modify the Agreement is impermissible.
Undoubtedly, as the University of South Carolina’s football program continues to improve, the school will look for ways reap the financial benefit. While the Gamecocks continue to win on the field, it is may be time to abandon efforts to profit further from their lifetime members’ seats and parking spaces (as that approach appears to lead to litigation). In order to pay for the ability to play Sandstorm more than the Vols play Rocky Top, South Carolina should increase the price of the official Head Ball Coach Visor.