NY bill would stop MSG from kicking out 'enemy' lawyers

New York City’s Madison Square Garden and other sports venues would be barred from refusing entry to perceived enemies of their owners under a bill introduced to the state Legislature Monday.

The proposed legislation comes after the company that owns the famed Garden and other notable venues, including Radio City Music Hall, instituted a policy of preventing ticket holders from entering if they work for any law firm involved in litigation against the company.

It has enforced the rule by revoking tickets and using facial-recognition technology to identify, and then bounce, people who try to attend events.

In November, the company used the technology to stop a New Jersey mom from accompanying her daughter on a Girl Scouts field trip to see a Rockettes holiday show at Radio City Music Hall.

An attorney who has owned New York Knicks season tickets for nearly 50 years sued MSG Entertainment in October, saying he and nearly 60 lawyers from his firm were barred from the company’s properties.

The bill would amend a long-standing state law by adding "sporting events" to the list of public places of entertainment that cannot refuse entry to people that arrive with a valid ticket. The law was originally intended to stop Broadway venues from barring theater critics they didn't like.

The proposal does not directly address the issue of using facial-recognition technology to screen patrons, but bill sponsors said the practice was out of bounds.

"It’s ridiculous that a corporate boss can use this technology to discriminate," said Assembly member Tony Simone, a Manhattan Democrat.

MSG Entertainment has defended its exclusion policy, saying it is good policy to keep its legal adversaries out of its venues. It said the bill's sponsors were siding with "attorneys representing ticket scalpers and other money grabbers."

"The facial recognition technology system does not retain images of individuals, with the exception of those who were previously advised they are prohibited from entering our venues, or whose previous misconduct in our venues has identified them as a security risk," an MSG Entertainment spokesperson said in an email.

A judge granted one banned attorney, Larry Hutcher, a partial victory in November, saying he and other lawyers at his firm have the right to attend musical and theatrical performances at the Garden, Radio City Music Hall, and the Beacon Theater if they showed up with a valid ticket.

That ruling did not apply to New York Knicks or New York Rangers games at the Garden.

"MSG claims they deploy biometric technology for the benefit of public safety when they remove sports fans from the Garden," sponsoring state Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal, a Manhattan Democrat, said in a prepared statement. "This is absurd given that in at least four reported cases, the patrons who were booted from their venues posed no security threat and instead were lawyers at firms representing clients in litigation with MSG."


Maysoon Khan is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow Maysoon Khan on Twitter.