CHICAGO – The Chicago Cubs don’t have to halt construction on a Wrigley Field video board that will block game views of adjacent rooftop clubs, a federal judge ruled on Thursday, dismissing claims from the one-of-a-kind businesses that they’re doomed if it goes up.
The ruling means both that the right-field sign could be operational soon and that the Cubs’ $375 million renovation of the century-old ballpark — which the teams sees as central to its future success — remains on track.
Skybox on Sheffield and Lakeview Baseball Club requested the preliminary injunction until a wide-ranging lawsuit is resolved. The rooftop owners say a 2004 revenue-sharing agreement with the Cubs prevents the team from obstructing views. They hoped the judge would issue an order in their favour before the Cubs’ first home game, this Sunday.
But in a 35-page opinion laden with baseball puns, U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall wrote that the rooftops “have cried foul” but haven’t demonstrated their businesses would, in fact, go under for good if the Cubs weren’t stopped immediately from erecting the video board.
She didn’t accept the obstruction would kill their businesses, noting how Cubs games themselves are often secondary to the party atmosphere on the urban rooftops in the Wrigleyville neighbourhood.
“One might argue … that the patrons who go to the Rooftops do not really go to watch the game at all, and when they do, they see very little of it anyway,” she wrote. “Being in close vicinity to the game with fresh air, alcohol, and good food might be sufficient to run a business — maybe not the business they are in now— but certainly a business.”
The judge noted that the revenue-sharing deal between the Cubs and the rooftop owners includes a clause allowing for an “expansion” of Wrigley Field, provided it was approved by a governmental authority.
The Ricketts family, whose scion founded the online brokerage Ameritrade, has been sparring with rooftop owners since buying the Cubs in 2009. The Cubs say the signs and other stadium upgrades will help them field better teams — ones that could vie for the Cubs’ first World Series in more than a century.
The ongoing renovations also include a left-field Jumbotron and a half-dozen other signs. Other rooftop properties that did not push for a preliminary injunction on the video board are parties to other civil action.
In a statement late Thursday, the Cubs expressed gratitude for the judge’s decision.
“We look forward to moving ahead with the expansion to protect and preserve Wrigley Field for our fans and our team,” the Cubs said.
In oral arguments over the preliminary injunction last week, one attorney for the rooftop owners, Thomas Lombardo, accused the Cubs of violating antitrust law, saying the team sought to manipulate ticket prices and to “bully” rooftop properties into selling out to the Cubs. He said the Cubs bought at least some stake in four of 16 rooftops and then altered plans to position signs in front of rooftops they don’t own.
But Cubs attorney Daniel Laytin said that misrepresents the relationship of the team to the rooftops. It is not one of competitor to competitor, he said, but of producer to distributor — the Cubs being the producers of baseball games and the rooftops selling views of games. Antitrust laws don’t apply in that kind of relationship, he said.
Kendall on Thursday also rejected the rooftops’ claim of an antitrust violation, including by pointing to a U.S. Supreme Court decision exempting major league baseball from antitrust laws.
Follow Michael Tarm on Twitter at http://twitter.com/mtarm