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.