Remember when two Idaho Steelheads (ECHL) fans complained when they felt shortchanged on their beer purchases and took their complaints to social media? Months later, the truth is far more complicated — and amazing — than you think.
Heath Forsey and Gwen Gibbs were YouTube sensations in March 2014 when they compared the capacity of two different beer sizes sold at Boise’s CenturyLink Arena. Their conclusion: what was billed as a 20-ounce beer cup held the same amount of beer as a 16-ounce cup. They compared capacity in this video and argued they were paying $7 for a $4 beer.
Two days after the video hit YouTube, four Idahoans filed suit in 4th District Court in Boise against Block 22 LLC (the CenturyLink Arena corporate entity) and asked for $10,000 in damages, saying they’ve purchased enough beer at CenturyLink Arena events, including Idaho Steelheads games, to warrant a winning court case. Two more plaintiffs filed suite later. (To their credit, Forsey and Gibbs never sought any restitution and did not sign onto the lawsuit. They’ve since taken down the YouTube video.)
Since then, the lawsuit has survived an attempt at summary dismissal and should go to trial in November. But since the original lawsuit was filed, some new information has emerged regarding how CenturyLink Arena and the Steelheads sell beer.
CenturyLink Arena’s general manager Eric Trapp and Block 22 CEO John Cunningham decided to investigate the beer cups on their own. The 20-ounce beer cups did indeed have a capacity of 20 ounces. But the 16-ounce cups had a capacity of 18.5 ounces — or 2.5 ounces above the advertised capacity. So fans ordering a $7 20-ounce beer did indeed receive a 20-ounce beer. Fans ordering a $4 16-ounce beer received a bonus amount. Since then, CenturyLink Arena has switched the larger size to 24 ounces. From the Idaho Statesman:
“No wrong was committed,” defense attorney Alexander McLaughlin wrote in a court filing. “Patrons that ordered large beers got exactly what they paid for. Patrons that ordered regular (16-ounce) beers, however, received more than what they paid for.”
Boise resident Michele Bonds contacted a lawyer after seeing the video and filed suit. She said she attends 10 to 15 sporting events and concerts annually at CenturyLink and buys two or three beers per event.
“It’s not OK, you know, to overcharge people for essentially the same amount of beer,” Bonds said in a deposition.
Since these assertions were filed by defendants, three plaintiffs withdrew their claims, leaving three plaintiffs with active claims. And the more serious claims of fraud were tossed, leaving a jury to decide on a lesser claim of whether the arena was unjustly enriched by overserving beer and violated provisions of the Idaho Consumer Protection Act, which prohibits deceptive trade practices.