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Rooftop Clubs Can't Halt Wrigley Field Signs, Judge Rules

The Chicago Cubs can continue the ongoing construction of a video board and other signs at Wrigley Field that block the views of rooftop businesses across the street, a federal judge ruled Thursday, saying the businesses struck out on their breach of contract and antitrust claims against the team.

The signs — part of a broader $375 million renovation of the aging ballpark — don’t run afoul of a 2004 revenue-sharing agreement between the team and the rooftop clubs, Skybox on Sheffield and Lakeview Baseball Club, U.S. District Judge Virginia M. Kendall said in a 35-page opinion denying the plaintiffs' bid to halt the project.

The Cubs are also shielded from any antitrust claims under a long line of U.S. Supreme Court cases establishing an exemption for Major League Baseball, the judge ruled, adding that even without the antitrust exemption, the team’s decision to build the signs doesn’t amount to monopolistic behavior.

“Because the Rooftops have failed to show a likelihood of success on the merits of their claims that the Chicago Cubs breached the license agreement and engaged in anticompetitive practices, and that the Cubs are somehow excluded from the antitrust exemption that applies to Major League Baseball, the Rooftops’ motion for preliminary injunction is denied,” Judge Kendall wrote.

The rooftop clubs sued the team and its owners, the Ricketts family, in January, alleging the signs breach a 20-year contract guaranteeing the businesses unobstructed views into Wrigley Field through 2023 in return for handing over a 17 percent cut of their revenues to the Cubs.

The suit also accused the team of trying to create a monopoly in violation of the Sherman Act by strategically placing the signs to obstruct the views of rooftop clubs who refused to sell their businesses to the team. The rooftop clubs had asked the court to halt construction of the signs while the litigation played out, claiming their businesses would go under without a clear view of the field. Judge Kendall denied an initial bid to halt construction in February.

In casting aside the plaintiffs’ contract claims on Thursday, Judge Kendall pointed to language in the agreement that permitted “any expansion” of Wrigley Field as long as it was approved by the government. The city’s landmark commission signed off on the renovations last July, she noted.

The judge also said that exemption aside, the rooftop clubs’ antitrust claims are “doomed” because they hinge on the team’s control over its own product.

“The problem with the Rooftops’ position is that the Cubs are not limited by the antitrust laws with respect to what they do with and how they distribute their own product, in this case, live Cubs games,” Judge Kendall wrote.

While the rooftop clubs could still pursue damages against the team, Judge Kendall’s forceful rulings on Thursday cast serious doubt on their claims. She is currently considering a separate motion lodged by the Cubs to dismiss the suit entirely.

“The Cubs are grateful the court today declined to stop the important work of preserving and expanding the Friendly Confines,” the team said in a Thursday statement. “We look forward to moving ahead with the expansion to protect and preserve Wrigley Field for our fans and our team.”

Edward McCarthy, Skybox's owner, conceded defeat in his own statement on Friday, saying the judge's decision needs to be respected.

"I have instructed my attorneys to take no further legal action at this time as it relates to seeking injunctive relief," he said.

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, Daniel E. Laytin and Diana M. Watral 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.