By Jim Bleyer
A class action lawsuit has been filed against Tampa Bay Sports and Entertainment that could conservatively could cost the Jeff Vinik-led company $300 million.
The legal action alleges TBSE, owner of the National Hockey League’s Tampa Bay Lightning, violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act.
Litigation is being brought by the Miami law firm of Carey Rodriguez Milian Gonya on behalf of lead plaintiff Bryan Hanley and other “persons similarly situated.” That number could easily exceed 10,000.
Basically, anyone targeted with text messages from the Tampa Bay Lightning marketing department may choose to join the class action. The texts included promotions for upcoming Lightning games at downtown Tampa’s Amalie Arena as well as discount ticket packages.
Hanley is asking for $1,500 for each text message that he received promoting the Lightning. The number of text messages is unspecified but exceeds 20 based on my experience with texts sent from the Lightning marketing arm.
Hanley alleges Vinik’s TBSE transmitted advertising and telemarketing text messages to cellular telephones throughout the Tampa Bay area.
Specific total damages are not mentioned in Hanley vs. TBSE but the math is simple: $1,500 for each text, 20 texts, 10,000 victims=$300 million. Forbes Inc. at the end of 2018 valued the Lightning at $450 million. Besides taking a financial hit, Vinik and the Lightning’s serial harassment becomes a public relations albatross as well.
Class action lawsuits rarely culminate with such stratospheric settlements. The attorneys invariably are well compensated but the sea of claimants have been known to receive pathetic amounts of compensation such as coupons or paltry two-digit sums.
That will not be the case in the litigation against TBSE, according to Ruben Conitzer, lead attorney for Carey Rodriguez.
In speaking with Tampa Bay Beat, Conitzer wouldn’t speculate on the amount of a settlement or court award but asserted this would not be one of those class actions that would translate to little or nothing for the aggrieved parties.
Conitzer revealed that Vinik’s legal team is trying to have the Telephone Consumer Protection Act declared unconstitutional.
”The tactic has been attempted in other jurisdictions to no avail,” he said.
There are other options for recipients of the illegal texts. Victims could opt out of the class action and file suit separately. An award or settlement could be $30,000 or more but attorney’s fees would eat up much of that. I asked Conitzer if an aggrieved party could also be a lead plaintiff along with Hanley in the class action and he replied affirmatively.
2019 has been a rough year for Vinik:
—His $3 billion Water Street Tampa development chugs on but way behind schedule. The project is collateralized to creditor Cascades Investments.
—The Vinik-instigated one percent sales tax for transit is tied up in the courts on several counts of unconstitutionality. The tax is integral for building a Tampa light rail system that would run through Water Street.
—A retired hedge fund manager, Vinik tried and so far has failed to raise $3 billion (coincidence?) for a newly-formed hedge fund with himself at the helm.
—The Lightning, prohibitive favorites to win the NHL’s Stanley Cup, were swept in the first round of the playoffs by the lowest-seeded team in the Eastern Conference. The team’s post-season collapse was stunning and historic.
—-Vinik has failed to register TBSE, a Delaware corporation, as a “foreign agent” though doing business in Florida for nine years. Fines are due to the State of Florida and registration is imperative.
—-Vinik’s fiduciary relationship with the Tampa Bay Times, the area’s only daily, has become more sinister. Bloomberg’s company profile of Vinik’s Tampa Bay Sports and Entertainment LLC lists its address as the Times building at 490 1st Ave. S., St. Petersburg. TBSE’s line of business “includes publishing newspapers” but nothing else, according to Bloomberg.
Now, there is this class action suit that, if taken to the limit, could wreck or, at best, pare Vinik’s interest in the Lightning.
(Tom Rask, publisher of the Tampa Bay Guardian, contributed to this article)