Rooftops spokesperson Ryan McLaughlin and Chicago Cubs spokesperson (VP of Communications and Community Affairs) Julian Green were on the radio with Bruce Levine and Ben Finfer on The Score this morning – indeed, they just got done speaking, and I thought those of you who couldn’t catch the interviews would want the important bits. There were many. I’ll add a link to the audio as soon as it is available. (UPDATE: It’s up.)
For now, I’ll offer my immediate take. From the interview with Julian Green, here are the salient, paraphrased points he made:
- Why and how did a deal seemingly get so close and then fall apart? – Almost a year trying to get a compromise done. Got to the point where we were willing to consider moving the right field sign outside of the ballpark, but then there were additional demands to move the left field video board outside of the park. We felt like that was a nonstarter. Negotiations stalled from there. We’re still talking, but we weren’t willing to consider that.
- Do you feel good about the Cubs’ position with respect to the rooftop contract? – I’m not a lawyer, so I can’t speculate on outcome. We’ve lived up to contract and there was never a guarantee that the views would not change. Look at the Toyota sign. We are allowed to put up signs that are in the best interests of the team. This is not about putting up spite fences or blockages. An expansion of Wrigley Field is not a violation of the contract.
- Why delay then? – At the end of the day we’re partners. We’re trying to come to a compromise and an out-of-court solution is always preferred. The Ricketts Family doesn’t want to start laying out $500 million, which would bring in jobs and economic activity and then have it held up in courts. We have compromised throughout the last year – on the size, on the location, on the mock-ups.
- What about the remedies built into the contract for the rooftops? – There was language for the first eight years in the rooftop contract that if there was blockage that impaired the business, there were remedies to alleviate those impairments (financial, build rooftops higher, etc.). That period has expired. But from a sign perspective, there was never a guarantee that the views wouldn’t change – hence the Toyota sign.
- More on outfield signage – The Red Sox might make $15 to $20 million in signage that they can put back into the organization. We’d like to have the option to be doing the same kind of thing. (Me: But … soooo much signage at Fenway … ) Budweiser is the sign partner as part of a long-term deal with the Cubs. But we’re trying to sign other partners for very long-term contracts, and having a captive audience for 81 games per year means significant potential revenue. Even still, we’re trying to compromise and considered moving that right field sign outside of the ballpark. We said that sign was more valuable to us in the park, and yet we were willing to agree to move it – and even had to try and convince the rooftops to accept that.
- Would you ever consider moving? – Early on, there was some talk about leaving Wrigley Field, and there were interesting/flattering offers. But the Family wants to win at Clark and Addison. I can’t speak on behalf of the family, but how far after doing everything they’ve done to try and compromise, and after no public funding whatsoever, how much further can you be pushed? How far do you go before you say we tried, and it just isn’t going to work out? Hats off to the City and the Mayor, we got a great plan through. But from our perspective, we’ve done everything we can to move this thing forward. We’ll see what happens in the future.
From the interview with Ryan McLaughlin, here are the salient, paraphrased points he made:
- Rooftop position on the contract? – Important to remember the history in all of this. Ten years ago, there was an understanding that the rooftops would be contributing 17% off of the top – between $3 to $4 million per year – and would then update the buildings at the request of the City. Now we feel like the rug is getting pulled out from under us halfway through. In sports, you can’t just break a contract halfway through without penalties. But it seems like that’s what is trying to be done.
- Legal battle? – We don’t want to go through a legal battle. We share that position with the Cubs. But we have to protect our legal rights. I don’t think anyone wants a lengthy legal battle. As Beth Murphy says, when the Cubs first did the bleacher expansion, they worked with everyone to make sure it’s going to work with everyone. We were brought in this time at the 11th hour. That’s just not the way to do it.
- How are the Cubs breaking the contract, given 6.6 language that a governmentally-approved expansion is not a violation? – Our attorneys feel strongly about this, and I won’t get into specifics, but there are elements of the contract throughout that inform our position. Our views can’t be blocked, and the Toyota sign is not a good example, because that doesn’t block any views. The JumboTron does block views.
- Where did you guys feel like you had a compromise? – The JumboTron’s shadow blocks views, too. You go to a rooftop for an experience that you can’t get inside the park. (I didn’t really understand where he was going with this, which I’m going to presume was my own fault. Maybe I mis-heard something.)
- Will the rooftops sell if a good offer is made? – Those kinds of offers are probably the kind of thing that need to take place privately. Suggestions to buy the rooftops out are probably a good suggestion, though. (I don’t want this to be misunderstood: Levine told Green at the end of his interview that he had three words for the Cubs: “Buy them out.” McLaughlin referenced that comment when he made this answer, indicating that Levine was making a good point. The implication was that buying the rooftops out is something they would consider. (Of course, I’d add that you always have to find the right price, given that the value of the rooftops sinks precipitously in 2023.))
- Worried about a backlash or boycott? – It’s a red herring to say we’re holding up renovation and construction. This $300/$400 million investment had to do with a hotel, with signage around Wrigleyville. We’re talking about a small percentage of the signage. I don’t know how a sign in the outfield prevents the rest of the work from happening. Of course we’re worried about reputation and what folks think about us. We hope to find a solution.
- What is the alternative plan for the JumboTron? – The hope is to put it in a better spot in left field where views aren’t blocked.
- McLaughlin once again called Bruce Levine’s “buy them out” advice the “best advice of the day.”
Wow. I am surprised at how willingly he discussed the possibility of buyouts – maybe that’s what some parties have been angling for all along? They know they’ve got an asset that won’t be worth nearly as much in 10 years, and it essentially depreciates every year along the way. Maybe this is the last stand for some of them. I’m just speculating based on McLaughlin’s comments, though, and it’s not like anything like that has been reported to date. And we have no way to know what kind of prices the rooftops would ask for in buyouts – Tom Ricketts did mention at the Convention when asked about this that it isn’t as simple as just writing a check. Who knows. Just thinking out loud here, because, as I said, I’m pretty surprised by McLaughlin’s comments.
As for the rest, it was unsurprising to hear Green leave the “move” option on the table, and I did get the sense that the Cubs feel good about their contractual position. No discussion, on either side, about the rooftops trying to scuttle the entire renovation as a nuclear option-type threat (we had heard about that at the Convention).