Cubs’ battle with rooftop owners now headed to court, as God intended

As of early last week, the Chicago Cubs owners were reportedly making good progress in negotiations with rooftop owners over their planned Wrigley Field renovations, with “Cubs executives [saying] they have made significant progress in negotiating with rooftop owners in the past two weeks” and team president Crane Kenney saying, “I feel confident we’re working our way toward the finish line here.”

Then, this happened:

The Cubs privately declared their intention to apply for a city permit to put up a 650-square-foot, see-through sign in right field that, the rooftop owners claim, will block their bird’s-eye view of the century-old stadium.

The decision to take immediate advantage of a sign already authorized by the City Council was made after a stormy negotiating session Tuesday and after rooftop club owners filed a defamation lawsuit against a stadium financing consultant who once advised the Cubs’ prior owner, the Tribune Co.

“Everything fell apart” at that meeting, said a source close to the negotiations.

And then this:

In a statement reacting to today’s earlier news that the Chicago Cubs have applied for a permit to build a large right-field sign at Wrigley Field, the rooftops released a statement saying that they will sue.

“Rooftop owners believe a blockage of our views violates the contract we have with the owners of the Cubs,” said Ryan McLaughlin, spokesman for the Wrigleyville Rooftops Association. “We have instructed our legal team to proceed accordingly.”

At issue is this sign, which Cubs owner Tom Ricketts wants to erect behind the right-field bleachers, and which the rooftop owners say would be in violation of their contract to provide a cut of their revenues to the Cubs in exchange for unimpeded views of the game. The key clause in the contract, as reported by CSN Chicago’s David Kaplan, who got ahold of the actual language, is this:

6.6 The Cubs shall not erect windscreens or other barriers to obstruct the views of the Rooftops, provided however that temporary items such as banners, flags and decorations for special occasions, shall not be considered as having been erected to obstruct views of the Rooftops. Any expansion of Wrigley Field approved by governmental authorities shall not be a violation of this agreement, including this section.

The big question is going to be whether a new ad sign counts as an “expansion of Wrigley Field” or not. Contract lawyers (all unnamed) quoted by Kaplan seem to think that Ricketts will likely be able to argue that it is — “I think it is probably going to go the Cubs’ way, but it is not a slam dunk,” said one — but even more likely is an out-of-court settlement once everyone gets a better sense which way the legal winds are blowing.

For now, anyway, it means one more season without a giant ad board and electronic scoreboard in the Wrigley bleachers. Which at least gives some reason to go see the Cubs this year.

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7 comments on “Cubs’ battle with rooftop owners now headed to court, as God intended

  1. The Cubs organization has only itself to blame. They entered into a (I believe) 20 year contract with the Rooftop owners to allow the Rooftops to market themselves as an alternative to sitting and viewing a game WITHIN the “friendly confines,” while kicking 17% of revenue back to the Cubs organization. Had the Cubs given the rooftops the extended middle finger they deserve, it never would have gotten to the point it has now, wherein the Cubs have to negotiate with the rooftops, to make changes to their own stadium.
    So Cub!!!

  2. Well, back in the 2007-2009 seasons they were filling 96%+ of their seats and that 17% was free money. At least season’s 79.3%, not so much.

  3. @mp34
    LOL! The rooftop owners likelihood in winning, is about as likely as the Cubs winning the World Series anytime soon!!!

  4. Dan M: The best part of all this is Ricketts was a partner in one of the rooftop businesses when the revenue sharing deal was announced… for all I know, he may still be…

    It’s not impossible that the rooftop partners (which is what the Cubs call them) will win. It really does depend, as Neil notes, on whether the addition of a sign counts as an expansion of Wrigley field. One could certainly argue that the new bleachers constructed out over the sidewalks etc counts as an expansion, as could the patio in right and the new box seats the Cubs have added in recent seasons.

    But selling an advertising sign as an expansion to exempt yourself from specific language in the contract pertaining to screens and barriers (which advertising signs are not, I would concede) may not be as easy as Ricketts and his lawyers think.

    If the city had not let the Lakeview rooftop “partners” blight the landscape with their grandstands, and if the Cubs had not entered into an agreement with the partners to share revenue (effectively accepting the rooftop owners’ right to sell tickets and inducing them to build more permanent structures to house fans), none of this would have been necessary. Wrigleyville would have been a much more pleasant environment in which to live or watch a game, and nearly everyone would have been better off (I’m told many of the buildings adjacent to the outfield along Sheffield and Waveland have changed hands several times, often for sums that outstrip the value of the buildings but also the revenue they can earn from the rooftop seats… something the Cubs also share some responsibility for legally given their agreement to allow spectators to watch from there).

    We’ll see how this turns out (and may ultimately get to read all of the contract between the partners – making decisions based on just a part of any contract is a dubious enterprise)… but unless the Cubs included the unilateral right to end this partnership at their discretion and be exempt from any damages thus caused, they may find any victory they earn to be financially disastrous.

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