Loyal Aggie fans upset about losing their prime spots in the $485 million expansion of Texas A&M University’s Kyle Field filed a federal class-action lawsuit Wednesday to hold onto their seats.
Attorneys representing three former students who contributed heavily to scholarship endowments filed the lawsuit in U.S. district court in Marshall against the 12th Man Foundation, the nonprofit group that is overseeing the “reseating” at the stadium, which is undergoing renovation.
The lawsuit accuses the foundation of breaching commitments it made as far back as the 1970s in which donors contributing tens of thousands of dollars were given, in return for their gifts, prime tickets at Kyle Field as well as highly coveted parking spaces near the stadium.
The attorneys are seeking class-action certification so they can ultimately represent about 450 endowments, or about about 1,700 of the 102,500 seats in the stadium.
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They also want the judge to issue a temporary restraining order to “maintain the status quo” preventing the foundation from redistributing their seats during a reseating program that is set to begin Monday and run through May.
The foundation’s strategy was to “reclaim and resell, at a higher price, the highest value benefits to a ‘new generation’ of Aggie alumni,” the lawsuit states. That is a violation of not only the law but also of the university’s Code of Honor, stating an Aggie “does not lie, cheat or steal or tolerate those that do.”
About 15 permanently endowed donors have brought lawsuits against the foundation in state district court about the reseating program. They include Warren Moore, who sued the organization in Tarrant County civil court last week.
Mark Riordan, vice president of marketing and communications for the 12th Man Foundation, said the organization had been advised to make no comments on current or pending litigation.
But Riordan said in general that “it is a smaller number of a larger group that has decided they were unhappy with the process.”
The controversy over the endowments is decades old but ramped up in earnest in 2013 after Texas A&M announced it would give the stadium a face-lift, boosting seating capacity to 102,500, making it the biggest stadium in the Southeastern Conference.
To help pay for those renovations, seat holders are expected to foot over half the bill through seat licenses. That triggered a massive reseating that has loyal fans, including Henry Holubec, a former executive director of the foundation, suing to stay where they are.
Donors like Moore and Holubec who donated tens of thousands of dollars to the foundation for seats in the 1980s were promised the prime seating for their lifetime. Those who gave in 1992 and later were told they could keep the best seats for 30 years, court documents show.
But the reseating process required them to shell out more money for the seats. For Moore, he would have to pay a $15,000-per-seat capital “gift” for each of his eight chairs for the 15 years. Starting in 2015, he would have to contribute an additional $2,000 a year for each seat for the next 15 years, adding $240,000 to the bill, for a grand total of $360,000 over the next 15 years.
The Foundation “and those that ran it, deliberately and systemically set out to whittle away at the agreements it had made” to the endowed donors, the lawsuit said. “All of this was, by the Foundation’s own admissions, driven by the desire for cash.”
While Riordan would not comment on the pending litigation, he did say that the foundation has tried to work with those who had contributed to the endowment program.
To recognize those seat holders, they are to get a $2,000 seating allowance starting this year to pick a spot in the stadium without owing additional financial support, the foundation’s website states. But if a fan wants to sit where more financial support is needed, the $2,000 can be applied to that cost.
“The seat holders have been given the ability to select seats before anybody else and in an area that is not going to cost them any more money,” Riordan said.
Max B. Baker, 817-390-7714