Charlotte fan files suit over denied seat refund PRO FOOTBALL


Organizers of the NFL bid in Charlotte, N.C., are facing legal action from a fan who alleges the group has refused to refund the deposit she made for club-seat tickets.

The fan, Greensboro, N.C., attorney Kathleen G. Sumner, filed a complaint yesterday with the North Carolina attorney general seeking a refund with interest of $2,476 she sent to the NFL group as part of its stadium financing plan. She is one of several thousand fans who've sought refunds from the proposed Charlotte team.

"We intend to look into this. It seems as though she has a clear case. They should return her money," said Phil Layman, of the North Carolina attorney general's consumer protection office.

There have been informal complaints from fans in Baltimore and elsewhere. But yesterday's filing appears to be the first such official action in any of the five cities vying for an NFL expansion team, according to a check with consumer protection officials in the states involved. Charlotte is competing with Baltimore, St. Louis, Memphis, Tenn., and Jacksonville, Fla., for one of two franchises to be awarded Oct. 26.

As part of a test-marketing campaign of premium seats designed by the NFL, Sumner mailed in a check and seat request June 30. But Richardson Sports, the group trying to lure a team to the Carolinas, told her that both her first and second choices for seats already were full.

She opted for a refund, but officials have told her she cannot have her money back until late next month and it will not earn any interest, she said. Other deposits taken in the campaign will be paid interest if the city fails to obtain a team, but not people like her.

"I'm not upset about not getting a seat. That's the breaks. What bothers me is they are not giving the money back," she said.

Dan Lohwasser, a spokesman with the Richardson group, said the contract language was clear on when refunds would go out, but the group is trying to get them done sooner. A few thousand fans have requested refunds, he said. They will not receive interest, he said.

Herbert J. Belgrad, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, coordinator of Baltimore's premium-seat campaign, said about 50 fans requested refunds. Those checks already have been mailed or soon will be, with interest, he said.

Meanwhile, a Baltimore businessman is unhappy over what he called preferential treatment in the local drive. Frank C. Fillmore, who owns a computer consulting business in Ellicott City, applied for $1,700 club seats on July 1, the day the premium-seat campaign began.

But he says he was bumped from those seats, ostensibly near the 50-yard line, because of a priority system he was unaware of. He said he's been told privately from people at the stadium authority and Greater Baltimore Committee that priority was given to sky-suite purchasers and those who bought seats from the Touchdowners, a volunteer sales group.

"I don't think we were dealt with straight," Fillmore said. "I think there was cronyism, and I don't appreciate these rules."

That charge was denied by Sam Oidick, managing director of group sales for Centre Management, who said sky-suite owners had the priority on club seats and there were about 3,800 requests for the 1,080 top-priced club seats.

Walt Gutowski, spokesman for the stadium authority, said there was no priority attached to seats sold by the Touchdowners. "They were not in position to guarantee seats," Gutowski said. "That wouldn't be fair to everybody else. The thing we tried to do was be as fair-minded as we could."

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