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Rooftop Owners Seek Delay Of Contested Wrigley Field Signs

A group of owners with rooftop businesses overlooking Wrigley Field asked an Illinois federal court on Thursday for a temporary restraining order to block the Chicago Cubs and stadium ownership from moving forward with a large signage project, amid a fight over whether the signs are an anti-competitive violation of a long-term contract.

The group, which requested both a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction, seeks to stop the Cubs from continuing to install a 2,200-square-foot video board that will block their businesses' views into Wrigley Field.

“Without immediate injunctive relief which restrains the Cubs Organization from installing the video board and any other signage which blocks the plaintiffs’ views, the plaintiffs’ businesses will be destroyed before this case goes to trial,” the rooftop owners said in a memorandum.

The rooftop owners contend that the Ricketts family, which owns the Cubs and Wrigley Field, is wrongfully attempting to monopolize the market even further and squeeze out the business owners who allegedly rebuffed attempts to be bought out by the Ricketts family, according to court documents.

“When a few owners did sell, the Cubs promptly and brazenly altered their sign plans to block the remaining holdouts while freeing up views from the Cubs’ newly acquired rooftop locations. This is patently anti-competitive conduct with a specific intent to monopolize in violation of the Sherman Act,” the plaintiffs contend.

Further, the signage is allegedly a violation of a 20-year contract that is said to guarantee the businesses unobstructed views into Wrigley Field through 2023 in return for handing over a 17 percent cut of their revenues to the Cubs' ownership, the plaintiffs contend.

The rooftop owners contend that a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction are both necessary to save their businesses.

“Indeed, the mere threat of blocking the plaintiffs’ views has already caused a significant decline in the plaintiffs’ 2015 ticket pre-sales, and those customers who are booking events with the plaintiffs are demanding refunds if the views are blocked,” the memorandum said.

Led by plaintiff Right Field Rooftops LLC, the rooftop owners lodged the suit last month. They allege that the team — which won approval in July for a revision to its $300 million Wrigley Field renovation plan, allowing it to erect seven outfield signs — is violating the Sherman Act by placing the signs in areas that block the rooftop sightlines of its competitors' businesses.

Since the end of the 2014 baseball season, the rooftop owners claim that construction work has begun to erect the signage approved over the summer. The new signage is being constructed in such a way that blocks their rooftop sightlines but leaves rooftops purchased by the Cubs unobstructed, the complaint said.

Representative and counsel for the Cubs declined to comment on the pending litigation.

"“The Cubs will vigorously contest this lawsuit and move forward confidently with the Wrigley Field expansion construction project, which is well underway,”  Andrew Kassof of Kirkland & Ellis LLP, an attorney for the Cubs, said last month, when the suit was filed. “Wrigley Field's expansion and renovation is in the best interest of the team, its fans, Major League Baseball and the city of Chicago."

And Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts argued last year that the lack of investment in Wrigley Field has hurt its players' ability to train and the team's ability to stay on the same level as competitors. He also argued that the revenues from the signage will help put money back into the team and stadium, which will be renovated using private funds.

The plaintiffs are represented by Thomas M. Lombardo and Abraham E. Brustein of Di Monte & Lizak LLC.

The Chicago Cubs are represented by Andrew Kassof of Kirkland & Ellis LLP.

The case is Right Field Rooftops LLC et al. v. Chicago Baseball Holdings LLC, case number 1:15-cv-00551, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.