The Wrigley Rooftops Need Better Legal Counsel

Posted by Kurt Smith on Wednesday, July 9, 2014

I have been keeping up with interest on the ongoing saga that is the Cubs vs. Wrigley Rooftop owners. The latest story, other than the Rooftop owners offering a “two sign” concession to the Cubs, is that the recent Rooftop defamation lawsuit against a local sports consultant was thrown out of court.

When you get a suit thrown out of court that quickly, you’ve probably put up a weak argument. At least, that’s the perception.

If you’re unfamiliar with the background of this, briefly, the Cubs wanted to expand the bleacher seating at Wrigley Field back in 2004. Suddenly the owners of the buildings across the street on Waveland and Sheffield Avenues, who had been charging people to watch Cubs games from the roofs of their homes, were risking being put out of business with no view of the game to sell.

Out of a grudging recognition for the fact that they were selling a product that technically wasn’t theirs to sell, the Rooftop owners inked a contract with the Cubs. In the deal, they agreed to share 17% of their revenues with the team, and the Cubs agreed not to block their view. This deal is in place until 2023.

Fast forward to 2014 and the current effort to renovate Wrigley. The Cubs are pushing for a Jumbotron, video screen, super-sized whatever, along with several large signs to help pay for it all, which would most certainly will block the view of the field from several of the Rooftops.

When I read comments in articles about this, most fans side with the Cubs, on the grounds that it’s their product and the Rooftop owners have essentially been stealing it. With all due respect, I’m not in that camp.

Regardless of the fact that the Cubs do indeed own the product, they signed this contract and thus far have probably benefited handsomely from the rooftop sales, with essentially zero investment on their part.

Yet now, with the prospect of raking in a much more substantial amount of money with a big scoreboard, the Cubs are almost acting as if there is nothing in their contract with the Rooftops that prevents them from doing just that—when in fact preserving the view was pretty much the Cubs’ whole end of the agreement.

Here is the specific clause regarding the Cubs blocking the Rooftops’ views:

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.

I’m no lawyer, which is one reason I have so many friends. So while I can’t claim legal expertise, I read this and ask why in the world aren’t the Rooftop owners citing this very clause in the contract, which is pretty specific until the last sentence?

I’d also like to know how their attorneys allowed that last sentence in this clause, which potentially nullifies the rest of it, requiring the Cubs only to prove that their huge new Jumbotron is considered “expansion”. Which, I expect, they will manage to do, but that ultimately makes the language of this clause weaselly, for lack of a better word.

Again, this part of it was almost the entire end of the Cubs’ part of the deal.

Instead, the Rooftop owners made themselves look patently ridiculous suing Chicago sports consultant Marc Ganis for defamation. Ganis was quoted in a Chicago Sun-Times story as calling the Rooftop owners “carpetbaggers stealing the product paid for by others for their own profit”.

Ganis was not even associated with the Cubs, at least not officially, so why were the Rooftops wasting their legal resources fighting someone exercising his First Amendment right? The only answer I can think is that they associate Ganis with the Cubs, which would violate this part of the contract:

8.2 The Cubs will not publicly disparage, abuse, or insult the business of any Rooftop or the moral character of any Rooftop or any Rooftop employee.

Even if that were the case, I still think it was a poor legal move that turned out embarrassingly bad for the Rooftop owners. It reeks of flailing when, in my opinion anyway, the Rooftop owners have a perfectly valid legal leg to stand on with the deal they signed onto with the Cubs.

Most all of the Rooftop owners have made significant investments into their homes to accommodate groups of people watching Cubs games from a unique perspective. They did so based on that contract, and they now stand to lose that investment. The property values of the homes on Waveland and Sheffield Avenues, while probably still remaining more than I could afford, will likely plummet if there is no view inside Wrigley Field from them.

That is what the Rooftops are facing, and their legal response to it has been utterly baffling to me.

Whatever you think, follow the story. It’s entertaining drama, and it’s going to be Wrigley and Cubs history someday.

Tags: wrigley field  chicago cubs 
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