Aug 20, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; A full moon rises over the rooftops at Wrigley Field during a game between the Chicago Cubs and the Washington Nationals.. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
There appears to be no end in sight when it comes to the Chicago Cubs ongoing battles with the Wrigleyville Rooftops Association.
On Monday, the Cubs filed a permit to construct a 650-square foot ad-sign that would be placed in right field at Wrigley Field and partially obstruct the sight-line from the rooftops. The WRA responded with a statement that would seem to suggest that a lawsuit may be coming against the Cubs.
The Cubs have refrained from starting the $500 million Wrigley Field renovation project until the rooftop owners promise not to sue the team. The problem that many have had in debating this issue is that the language of the original contract between the two sides was not known. Therefore, it was difficult to determine what side was in the right.
David Kaplan of Comcast Sportsnet Chicago shared an exclusive look at the contract between the two sides that was signed in 2004. Among the provisions of the contract that were published, provision 6.6 pertains most to this current battle between the Cubs and the rooftop owners.
"6.6 The Cubs shall not erect windscreens or other barriers to obstruct the views of the Rooftops, provided however that temporary items such as banners, flags and decorations for special occasions, shall not be considered as having been erected to obstruct views of the Rooftops. Any expansion of Wrigley Field approved by governmental authorities shall not be a violation of this agreement, including this section.-Comcast Sportsnet Chicago"
First, in order to analyze, this provision should be broken into the sections.
The first section referring to the first part of the provision.
"The Cubs shall not erect windscreens or other barriers to obstruct the views of the Rooftops, provided however that temporary items such as banners, flags and decorations for special occasions, shall not be considered as having been erected to obstruct views of the Rooftops.-CSN Chicago"
Score one for the Cubs. The provision prohibits the Cubs from adding widescreens, barriers, signs, etc for the sole purpose of obstructing the rooftops. Under the renovation plan, the Cubs would be adding a LED jumbo-tron and ad-signs along the outfield walls as part of the renovation project as well as for the purpose of creating a new source of revenue. The planned additions were not drawn up with the intention of blocking the views of the rooftop.
Going into the second part of the provision. Are the Cubs in good legal standing for making these additions since they’re being characterized as an expansion?
"Any expansion of Wrigley Field approved by governmental authorities shall not be a violation of this agreement, including this section-CSN Chicago"
Score two for the Cubs. The project was approved by the Chicago City Council last summer, and with that approval, the Cubs are not in violation of their contract with the rooftop owners.
As for the legal breakdown of this provision, Kaplan spoke with an attorney who reviewed the contract including this provision.
"“Now, in looking at 6.6, the question that will have to be decided is whether or not the word ‘expansion’ will apply to a sign or Jumbotron. Looking at the wording of the contract, any expansion of Wrigley Field approved by governmental authorities shall not be a violation of this agreement, including this section. Is a sign in right field or a Jumbotron in left field an expansion of Wrigley Field? Or is an expansion of Wrigley Field something that would have to include seating or making the ballpark bigger? This is no slam dunk win for the Cubs, although I think they would ultimately prevail, but I would say the same about the rooftops.”-CSN Chicago"
Regardless of how one interprets “expansion”, the attorney stated that contract may not provide an avenue for a lawsuit.
"“The last line of 6.6 is the one that an arbitrator might have to decide,” he told me. “And let’s be clear that unless both sides agree, the contract does not provide an avenue for a lawsuit in the typical sense of the word. Instead, it sends both parties before an arbitration panel. -CSN Chicago"
For further evidence that the Cubs are in good legal standing adding signage and a jumbo-tron, Kaplan discovered a public document in which the Chicago City Council voted 49-0 in favor of giving the Cubs the right to add the aforementioned additions under the characterization of an “expansion”.
"“Specifically, but without limitation, Applicant shall have the right to expand the Wrigley Field bleachers to install (i) a new video board in left field, which may include an LED sign, a neon illuminated sign above it and two light towers to assist in outfield lighting; and (ii) a neon sign in right field, which signage has been approved by the Commission on Chicago Landmarks and, in addition to being part of the bleacher expansion, and along with all other signage contemplated by this Planned Development, is integral to the expansion and renovation of Wrigley Field and the development and redevelopment of the Property as contemplated herein.”-CSN Chicago"
By now, your head is spinning and you’re thinking what the hell does all this legal mumble jumble mean?
It means that the Chicago Cubs are standing in a very good position in case of a lawsuit. The argument can be easily made that the Cubs $500 million government approved Wrigley Field renovation project is indeed an expansion. Thus proving that the Cubs are not in violation of the contract they signed with the WRA in 2004.
Of the course the Cubs will remain coy with the rooftop owners on the public scene, but behind the curtains, the team likely is carrying a big stick. A stick that will legally be able to knock out the remaining hurdle that is preventing the team from starting their expansion project.