Obsessive Wrigley Renovation Watch: Ad Value and the Revenue-Sharing Agreement with the Rooftops

1_PROPOSED_MARQUEE_VIEWThe Ricketts Family, by way of spokesperson Dennis Culloton, recently offered some additional reactions to Friday’s rooftop advertising proposal (to which the family essentially said nah), and they make it sound like striking a deal is going to be very, very difficult.

Expressing doubt about the legitimacy of the rooftops’ projections that advertising on the rooftop buildings could generate nearly $20 million annually, Culloton said, per the Sun-Times, “[It’s] all about broadcast views …. There’s a lot more shots of the stands and the field than there are wide shots of the neighborhood. Advertisers are going to value that differently. That’s not to say there is no money [for rooftop signs], but it’s going to be less valuable.”

Culloton went on to point out that the rooftops are asking for a 30-year extension of their revenue-sharing agreement with the Cubs, which pays the team 17% of the rooftops’ revenue, and said such an extension would be a “non-starter.” If the agreement is to be extended, Culloton suggested, the Cubs’ cut would have be increased. The current iteration of the agreement is believed to be in place for several more years. Indeed, it looks like the sides agreed to a 20-year deal back in 2004 to resolve some fighting about additional bleachers in Wrigley and screens that would have blocked the rooftops’ views.

Assuming for the sake of argument that the Cubs aren’t actually interested in extending the agreement, and instead simply want to proceed without any kind of rooftop arrangement: what exactly can the Cubs do without breaching their agreement with the rooftops? (That question, itself, assumes that the Cubs aren’t willing to breach the agreement, which they very well may be, if doing so represents an efficient breach.)

Obviously we will probably never have access to the precise language of the private contract, but we can do some surmising based on comments from one of the rooftop owners.

Beth Murphy, owner of Murphy’s Bleachers, said signs inside Wrigley that block the rooftops’ views would violate the “spirit of the settlement” that the parties reached back in 2004, which included landmark protection for the “uninterrupted sweep” of the grandstand and the bleachers.

“Maybe the words could be stronger, but I believe we were not meant to be blocked,” Murphy said, per the Sun-Times.

My take, based on Murphy’s position, is that the agreement between the parties is largely predicated on the landmark protection for the “uninterrupted sweep” of the grandstand and the bleachers. When you start using words like “spirt of the settlement, “maybe the words could be stronger,” and “were not meant to be blocked,” it’s a fair guess that the strict language of the agreement doesn’t make things clear.

If I’m right, the rooftops will have some precedent working against them – back in 2010, the Cubs were permitted to add the large Toyota sign in left field, thanks to the approval of the Landmarks Commission. Of course, that sign didn’t block a rooftop view, so maybe there wasn’t as much of a fight behind the scenes as there would be this time around (politics, and all that).

The Cubs seem very eager to get approval on a signage plan, so this will all probably resolve soon – hopefully amicably. Fighting and lawsuits slow things down, and nobody wants that. But, obviously, the Cubs have to do what they think is best, and, presumably, the rooftops will do the same.

(Disclosure: Some of the rooftops advertise on Bleacher Nation, though it in no way impacts how I’ve been covering this story.)

written by

Brett Taylor is the Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and on LinkedIn here. Brett is also the founder of Bleacher Nation, which opened up shop in 2008 as an independent blog about the Chicago Cubs. Later growing to incorporate coverage of other Chicago sports, Bleacher Nation is now one of the largest regional sports blogs on the web.

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