“Philly Phanatics” Redlined by ZIP Code from Attending Washington National’s Baseball Games

It seems that the fans of the Philadelphia Phillies like to take frequent road trips to attend baseball games at the home ballpark of the Washington Nationals since the stadium is only 125 miles away and the tickets are easier to obtain. Citizen’s Bank Ballpark in South Philly is usually sold out and "Philly Phanatics" could literally take away the Nat's home field advantage by putting more fans in the seats than those rooting for the Nats! Now, this caused great consternation to the Nationals’ chief operating officer Andrew Feffer according to an article in the Wall Street Journal. The Journal reports that Feffer blocked ticket sales outside of the D.C. area, Maryland and Virginia for the first series between the two clubs this year until after a certain date. If you tried to purchase tickets with a credit card and lived in a Philly ZIP Code you had to wait until the ban was lifted for your location. Philly fans cried redlining.

This isn't an entirely new application of location technology. In the past, Major League Baseball (MLB) has tried to prevent fraudulent ticket purchases when games are blacked out in certain regions and ticket purchasers try to "fudge" their location by putting in a false ZIP Code. MLB uses IP location detection to sniff out the perpetrators for online ticket buys.

Directions Magazine contacted Kevin Pomfret of the Centre for Spatial Law and Policy to get his reaction:

Three quick thoughts are:

  1. From a policy standpoint it shows the power of location to be used for both "good" and for "bad" and in many cases how you define it will depend upon which dugout you are sitting in. (sorry for the bad pun)
  2. From a legal standpoint, it shows the risks that companies will face by empowering employees within their organization to make decisions based upon location-enabled data, without training them on either the limitations or the potential broader impact. For example, I am not sure that the measure would violate interstate commerce (although I would not be surprised if it does) but I can certainly come up with instances where decisions based upon location would be discriminatory in law, even if not intended to be so.
  3. Finally, I am afraid that stories like this will be used to support recent state court decisions that suggest that a ZIP Code is "personally identifiable information" and therefore subject to privacy protections. 

So, what do you think? Is this a great marketing ploy or does it expose the Nationals to a lawsuit?

Published Friday, May 4th, 2012

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Location Intelligence

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