Lingering in the background of every Wrigley Field renovation discussion we have is the possibility that the Ricketts Family, who did not own the Chicago Cubs when the team officially sanctioned a partnership with the rooftops that outline the outfield at Wrigley, does not want to come to an agreement with those rooftops. Publicly, the family says they’re working with the rooftops on an agreement involving advertising signage, the proceeds of which will help fund the renovation. The rooftops, with the aid of Alderman Tom Tunney, are working to preserve their views into Wrigley Field, and are clinging to an agreement signed with the Cubs that provides for revenue sharing through 2024, and which may or may not absolutely protect their views.
But, however unsavory it might seem, we have to at least discuss the possibility that the Cubs are considering a plan that would (1) erect signs that block the rooftop views, (2) involve a lengthy legal dispute, (3) drive the rooftops out of business in the meantime, (4) allow the Ricketts Family to purchase the rooftop buildings at a reduced rate, and (5) allow the Ricketts Family to repurpose those buildings to drive additional personal revenue or additional Cubs revenue.
At least one rooftop owner – George Loukas, who owns three of the buildings – has already openly suggested that this would be the Ricketts Family’s plan, if they had their way. He reiterated that belief on Friday, in a statement to the Tribune: “Based on everything I’ve seen from the Ricketts family during this recent process, they are not interested in a true partnership. In fact, it appears they would like to put the rooftops out of business …. It’s disheartening this is the direction it’s going.” Is that just posturing and a public appeal for sympathy/political support? Maybe. Ricketts Family spokesman Dennis Culloton called Loukas’s claim a mere conspiracy theory.
But the same Tribune report reveals that, in 2011, the Ricketts Family attempted to purchase a 50% ownership interest in five buildings in the outfield at Wrigley – four rooftops, and one non-rooftop building on which they would have placed a JumboTron. How different the renovation fight might look if that purchase attempt had succeeded.
There are no public indications that any talks between the Ricketts Family/the Cubs and rooftops about a buyout are still ongoing, but that does remain a possibility in this renovation dispute. If it becomes clear that the Cubs will be able to block some of the views from the rooftops, it’s possible that a building or two will decide it’s better to sell and get a marginal premium than to hold out hope for a friendly solution down the line or an unfriendly solution in court. If that doesn’t happen, it’s possible that the Cubs will simply come to an interim advertising agreement that honors the current contract with the rooftops, and then, when that contract expires in 2024, the Cubs will block the rooftops out of existence.
That’s certainly what Culloton’s statement on the current state of the advertising talks suggests.
“There’s considerable discussion about the best way signs can be incorporated in a way that meets the needs of the alderman and the rooftops for the duration of the contract,” Culloton told the Tribune.
You might as well underline that “for the duration of the contract.” The Cubs don’t have much leverage, and 2024 is a long ways off, but the implicit threat there is: “if you don’t satisfy us in these discussions, we will make sure to put you out of business in 2024.” (And, if the Cubs really do have that power, I’d think that threat would also have an impact on the rooftops’ ongoing financing arrangements, but I don’t want to go too far down that rabbit hole, since I’m not a business/finance/whatever expert.)
[Disclosure: Some of the rooftops advertise on Bleacher Nation, but that has not affected the way I've covered this ongoing story.]