Why I Don't Support the Wrigleyville Rooftop Owners

Yesterday, I posted on my FB page and on Twitter my first gut reaction to the latest twist in the Cubs v. Rooftops saga that began a long time ago in a galaxy, far, far away (or it just seems that way):

If you go to a rooftop across from Wrigley, or buy a drink in any of the bars they own, we're not friends anymore.

Is that childish and pouty? Absolutely. Do I take it back? Not really.

I'm not really going to disown anyone for going to a rooftop because there are bigger issues in the world to get that bothered about, but I'm not going to pay a nickel to anybody who owns those places and I don't think Cubs fans should either because they are now hurting the teams' ability to survive at Wrigley Field.

But let's take a step back. First, why in the hell do the neighbors even have a say in this?

This is one of the first questions I always get when this topic comes up from people who are baseball fans but not Cubs fans, or from people who like the Cubs, but don't fritter all their time away in the hive of scum and villainy that is Cubs blog world. Most people plain don't understand how this is even a thing.

So let's travel back in time to the early 80s, when the Cubs sucked, the Wrigleys finally sold a team they hadn't given a damn about in decades, Wrigleyville was Latin King territory, and you could tie an onion to your belt (which was the style at the time) and head to Wrigley to sit in the bleachers on the day of the game for a nickel or whatever. It was a time of innocence. A time when only day baseball was played, and hardly any of the players were millionaires. There were also no rooftop seats across the street.

Oh sure, people went up there from time to time, but they were people who lived in the buildings or had friends who lived in the buildings. It was a perk of living there. You had friends over, dragged a grill up top and hung out in the sun, drinking your own beer, and watching the Cubs from a distance. It was pretty cool and hardly anybody was aware of it.

Then the Cubs, under Dallas Green, managed to put together a team that actually made the playoffs. It was 1984. Harry Caray was in the booth, Ryne Sandberg was breaking Cardinals fans hearts, and the Cubs won the division for the first time in almost 40 years. It was a fucking party. The park was jammed full of partying people. This is when the national spotlight hit the rooftops, that were also more jammed than usual because everybody wanted to see the magic at Wrigley. So the TV cameras found the rooftop folks and their friends partying and Cubs fans at home began to think, "Wow, that looks AWESOME. I wish I could do that."

I don't know who did it first and it really doesn't matter, but someone over there got the idea to start selling access to the rooftops. And they had a lot of demand. A lot. So they put up junior high school style bleachers and installed bigger grills. And the TV cameras kept finding them and the demand kept growing.

Meanwhile, the Cubs viewed it as an opportunity to sell themselves. "Look!" They'd say through constant mentions by Harry or camera shots by Arne Harris, "The Cubs are so popular people are jamming onto the rooftops to see us play!"

The rooftops had plenty of business, and this was the first real opportunity the owners of the buildings had to really cash in on the Cubs being right next door since a local ordinance restricted the signage outside the ballpark.  The old Budweiser sign in left field and the old Torco sign in right field were grandfathered in and if those signs ever come down, they can't go back up again.

But rooftop seating wasn't restricted and as it became bigger business, they needed all sorts of licensing from the city to operate. The rooftops claim the Cubs never objected. I don't know if they did or not, but they sure seemed happy to build the rooftops into the sun, ivy, baseball-the-way-it-was-meant-to-be mythology that they marketed in the absence of much winning baseball.

Since nobody was telling them otherwise, the rooftops then started heavily investing in their business. Wrigley's high-end amenities were non-existent. Sure, they had skyboxes, but they were tucked back in under the upper deck, and were pretty cramped. The food service sucked throughout the ballpark. So the rooftops started providing real food options and having actual good restaurants cater. They served top-shelf liquor. They had premium beer options and now serve real craft beer. They suddenly became a better option for the wealthy corporate customers that were becoming increasingly important to a baseball team's economics. They started putting additions on the buildings and building multi-level stadium-quality bleachers, with separate access stairs and elevators. They renovated apartments into full-service sports bars. Hell, a couple of those buildings were build for the express purpose of making them into stadium clubs.

All of these mega-complexes were built around a view of games that they did not own.

This was the crux of a lawsuit that the Cubs finally brought against the rooftops in 2002. We'll get back to that.

Meanwhile, the city had started moving on placing landmark status on Wrigley Field, meaning any change to the ballpark would have to go through a landmarks committee. 

Mayor Daley always had a contentious relationship with the Chicago Tribune's editorial board, but you can't just take revenge on a newspaper that is mean to you if you're a politician. Freedom of speech and all that. But what you CAN do, especially in the seedy world of Chicago politics, is squeeze the baseball team owned by the newspaper, and that was the Cubs. People used to think that Daley only fucked with the Cubs because he was a Sox fan, but after the 1994 strike, he was pretty disillusioned with baseball altogether and really didn't give much of a damn anymore. The fact that it was the Cubs was more icing on the cake than a main motivator. He meant to make the Tribune squirm any way he could and landmarking Wrigley was just the next thing (see also, the Battle of Night Games).

I can't find when it was officially declared for review, but it definitely was under review in the early 2000s when the Cubs and rooftops started really clashing. The Cubs were in a hurry to make changes that wouldn't need to go through 8 billion steps (like we've seen for the current renovations now that the landmark status is officially official), but the changes required building out over the Waveland and Sheffield sidewalks and that got the neighborhood involved. The plans would also obscure the sightlines from the rooftops and so they began fighting the Cubs on the changes.

So there wasn't much, if any, political support for the Cubs against a neighborhood that loves having their property values shoot up because of the stadium, but hates every other part of living near a stadium: people, traffic, noise, etc.  Cubs fans, as they are prone to do, were also going apeshit that the Tribune was going to ruin Wrigley Field by making the changes. 

Things deteriorated between the rooftops and the Cubs and came to a head when the Cubs sued the rooftops at the end of 2002:

According to the Cubs’ complaint and to Andy MacPhail, President and CEO, as quoted above, the Chicago Cubs have a property right in the performance of the Major League baseball games played at Wrigley Field, and the rooftop owners infringe the Cubs’ copyrights by rebroadcasting the Cubs’ telecasts.

According to the rooftop owners’ answer to the complaint, the Cubs’ allegations are made solely to harass the owners and pressure the community and the City of Chicago to permit the Cubs to fundamentally alter Wrigley Field and the character of the Wrigleyville neighborhood.

So the Cubs were saying, "You don't have a right to sell a view of our product" and the rooftops countered with, "You are just saying that to bully us."

But it ultimately came down to who owned the rights to the view, and it isn't as simple as you might think if you read the article I linked to. Eventually a judge ordered a compromise be made, and the Cubs, who were hellbent on getting their Bleacher expansion before the landmark status was finalized, agreed to a deal where they got the expansion rights over the sidewalks and 17% of the revenues from the rooftops in exchange for a 20 year moratorium on blocking the rooftop views.

Essentially, the Cubs screwed themselves in the long run by being stupidly narrow-minded in their scope of what was a "win" for them. Someone with a longer view might have balked at committing to 20 years of status quo in a ballpark that was already 90 years old at the time. Maybe they could keep challenging and make the rooftops win their argument that they had a right to the view. Maybe they could have just said to hell with the 17%, just give us the rights to the sidewalk space and we'll stay as is for 5 years (or something a hell of a lot shorter than 20 years). I don't know, I wasn't there and I'm not a legal expert. But this agreement is now why the current Cubs have their hands tied when trying to renovate the ballpark.

They've cleared all the landmark hurdles, but the revenue-driving signage and jumbotron that will help pay for the non-revenue driving (but essential) changes are in potential violation of that agreement that doesn't expire until 2024.

So this is the Cubs' own damn fault, right? Well, yeah, pretty much, with a helping hand from Daley who helped put them in a position of angst where that deal seemed like a good idea.

But here is the thing, and I've said it before and I will keep saying it until I am blue in the face: The Cubs have a FINITE amount of time where playing at Wrigley Field is viable, from both an economic and safety perspective.

SOMETHING has to change. The Cubs can not compete like a large market team without the revenues that every other baseball team in the world has access to. The Cubs can not compete while asking their players to use equipment that is inferior to many NCAA  Division III (non-scholarship) athletic facilties. THERE IS STILL SAFETY NETTING BECAUSE OF CONCRETE THAT STARTED CRUMBLING AND FALLING A DECADE AGO.

It. Can. Not. Continue. Like. This.

So, do the rooftops have a very serious case that their agreement is being violated? Yeah, they might (as GBTS has stated in the comments in earlier posts, this is also not crystal clear because it depends on the language of a contract we don't have access to, and depends on how a judge interprets that language). But the thing is, their end game makes the Cubs staying at Wrigley unviable. Their obstruction of the plans means that the Cubs will have NO OTHER CHOICE but to find someplace else to play. It can't continue like this until 2024, and if they somehow win and block the Cubs from making the changes, then they'll be signing their own businesses' death certificates.

It doesn't matter that Cubs fans will be pissed. There will be no other choice.

It doesn't matter that their brand will be damaged by moving away from the iconic Wrigley. There will be no other choice.

It doesn't matter that there has yet to be a real location floated as an option. There will be no other choice.

I don't understand why Cubs fans don't see this and I certainly don't understand why the rooftops don't see this. They seem to be operating under the impression that all they have to do is beat the Cubs in this battle and they can go back to raking in money like always. This isn't the Braves moving out of a 15 year old stadium. Wrigley is 100 years old and can't function in the modern era anymore.

The renovations won't destroy the rooftop businesses. They'll have less of a view than before, but they'll still have a view, and that means they'll still have a business. And if I'm the Cubs, I tell the rooftops that in exchange for dropping all this bullshit and letting the plans go, they can reduce the 17% payments or extend the contract so that further changes won't be permitted. Maybe both.

But for any settlement to actually take hold that doesn't end in more litigation that holds up the changes, the rooftops have to come to their senses and realize that they have no business at all if they force the Cubs to move. Perhaps a boycott of the rooftops and their bars would give them a taste of what life without the Cubs would be like and might prompt some movement. Because I honestly don't think that will ever happen without someone forcing the issue, and the city doesn't seem inclined to do so (Surprise!).

In my opinion, supporting the rooftops is giving financial approval of their methods to hold the Cubs back from becoming a real major market team and that is all I care about. The rooftop owners (legally or not) are willfully pushing the Cubs to a scenario where they will have to vacate Wrigley Field in order to grow as a franchise, and believe it or not, by the time a move would be made, the Cubs will probably be pretty good and people would go to watch them in a dome if it came to it. The Cubs are about 3 years away from serious contention, and if they started on finding an alternate location right now, they could probably move in right around that time frame.

New team, new stadium, new tradition. It brands itself.

The rooftops are destroying the chances of seeing our potential best seasons ever as Cubs fans in the venue we all (mostly) want them to be in when it happens.

So while it may not be "fair" since the Cubs (and Crane Kenney) are major culprits in coming to this point, my choice is to not support the rooftop owners because their end game is the least desirable to me as a Cubs fan.

Things can not continue like this.


About aisle424

I used to write lots of things about the Cubs. Now I sometimes write things about the Cubs.