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Kirkland Scores for Cubs in Spat Over Wrigley Signs

Cubs fans love tradition. Even the team's tradition of losing doesn't deter the faithful from filling Wrigley Field. But now, in a bow to the digital age, the team's owners are putting up a 6,000-square-foot Jumbotron in left field. The club emphasizes, however, that it won't use the massive screen for some of the foolishness that other clubs allow. The Jumbotron won't exhort fans to make noise, and it won't encourage anyone to kiss for the masses.

One fan is especially unhappy with this change, which also includes the addition of a 1,000-square-foot advertising sign in right field. Edward McCarthy, a commodities trader, owns two rooftop businesses next to Wrigley Field where fans in the past have paid dearly to watch games, and the signs will block those views. These two businesses—Lakeview Baseball Club and Skybox on Sheffield—filed a lawsuit to stop the new signs from going up, claiming that this construction created a "life and death situation" for them. Last Thursday, U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall in Chicago denied that request for injunctive relief.

The ruling, which came after two seven-hour hearings, is a victory for Andrew Kassof of Kirkland & Ellis, who represents the Cubs. Kassof, an admitted Cubs fan, declined to comment. In another sports controversy, Kassof in 2013 successfully defended Derek Fisher, the current coach of the New York Knicks and the former president of the National Basketball Players Association, in litigation brought by fired NBPA executive director Billy Hunter.

The Cubs dispute centers on a 2004 license agreement that the Cubs signed with 16 rooftop businesses near Wrigley Field, including the two owned by McCarthy, that gives the businesses unobstructed views into Wrigley Field for 20 years in return for 17 percent of their gross revenue. That agreement resolved a lawsuit that the Cubs filed in 2002 against the businesses, claiming that they were misapproprating property.

In the request for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction, McCarthy's businesses allege that this recent sign construction violates that agreement. They also accuse the Cubs of anti-competitive behavior by trying to fix the prices charged by these rooftop businesses. The business owner maintains that since the Ricketts family bought the Cubs and Wrigley Field from the Tribune Company in 2009, it has embarked on a "ruthless crusade" to squeeze additional revenue out of the rooftop businesses and destroy those that don't acquiesce to their demands.

In its court filings, the Cubs countered that McCarthy's lawsuit was "long on sensational accusations, but short on any legal merit."

In her ruling, Kendall stated that the 2004 license agreement carved out an exception that permitted the Cubs to expand Wrigley Field if a governmental authority approved the expansion, which is the case here. And the Cubs, like all of Major League Baseball, have an exemption from the antitrust laws that dates back to 1922, she pointed out. She also noted that the rooftop business hadn't proved they couldn't survive without a view of Wrigley Field, since they could still operate as restaurants.

McCarthy is represented by Thomas Lombardo of Di Monte & Lizak in Park Ridge, Illinois. Lombardo declined to comment, but forwarded a statement from McCarthy, who said he had instructed his attorneys "to take no further legal action at this time as it relates to seeking injunctive relief." It's not clear if he will still seek damages.

Tickets for Sunday's home opener against the St. Louis Cardinals were going for $160 at the Lakeview Baseball Club, including food and beverage, according to its website. Skybox at Sheffield appeared to be sold out for the opening game, but tickets for Tuesday night's game were priced at $109, with food and beverage.