The San Diego Chargers are trying to solidify their home-field advantage against the New England Patriots Sunday by restricting the sale of tickets to Southern California residents only.
Several Patriots fans who went looking for game tickets on Ticketmaster were stunned to learn that their money was no good.
"The San Diego Chargers have restricted sales to the Divisional Playoff game to residents of Southern California and the surrounding area only," Ticketmaster warned. "Residency will be based on your credit card billing address. Orders by residents outside of southern California will be canceled without notice."
Lynda Frank , a Patriots fan from Tewksbury, thought the sales restriction is unfair, if not outright illegal.
"Who do they think they are?" she asked. "Our reputation must have somehow preceded us and made us part of the fear factor associated with our team at playoff time."
Bill Johnston , a Chargers spokesman, said about 1,000 tickets went on sale Monday and sold within minutes.
"Our goal has always been to fill our stadium with Charger fans and supporters of the team. This also helps give our team the best home-field advantage possible," he said.
Johnston said the same ticket policy will be employed if the Chargers defeat the Patriots and advance to the American Football Conference title game. The hometown-fan-only restriction was not in place for regular season games of the Chargers.
The Chicago Bears also restricted sales to the team's game this Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks to fans from Illinois and northwest Indiana.
Greg Aiello , a National Football League spokesman, said he is not aware of how many teams restrict ticket sales to local fans. "There is no league policy that would prohibit it," he said.
Ticket industry officials said tickets are revocable licenses issued at the discretion of a team or venue.
Lawyers consulted by the Globe said such sales would be legal unless specifically prohibited . Excluding minorities or women from ticket purchases, for example, would raise legal problems because there are laws against discrimination of such groups.
Officials with the Patriots said they received a handful of complaints from fans about the Chargers' ticket restriction. Stacey James , the team spokesman, said the Patriots have never restricted ticket sales to their games.
"There's certainly logic to it," he said. "No team wants to fill their stadium with fans from the other team."
The only other option for Patriots fans wanting to see the game in San Diego is to buy tickets from a ticket reseller, but the prices are steep. Ace Ticket of Boston yesterday was selling $95 upper-level seats for $285. StubHub Inc. of San Francisco yesterday listed $95 end-zone upper-level seats for prices ranging from $214 to $295.
"Tickets are available. We have been getting lots of calls, and it seems to be a fair amount of Patriots fans are going to the game," said Jim Holzman , president of Ace.
Frank, the Patriots fan, said she doesn't think the hometown ticket restriction will do the Chargers any good because the Patriots play so well on the road. The team this season is 7-1 away from home.
Frank's prediction for Sunday? Patriots 35, Chargers 21.
Bruce Mohl can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.