Obsessive Wrigley Renovation Watch: The Rooftops Just Launched a Hail Mary

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Obsessive Wrigley Renovation Watch: The Rooftops Just Launched a Hail Mary

Chicago Cubs

respect wrigleyAfter a couple weeks of “leaks” and “anonymous sources” telling the story of the Wrigley Field renovation negotiations, the owners of the rooftop buildings – large stakeholders in the outcome of the renovation talks, as they are trying to preserve their views into Wrigley Field in the face of the Cubs’ desire to add advertising along the outfield wall – decided to hang it all out there. And it doesn’t sound like any kind of agreement, at least with respect to them, is even remotely close.

For your benefit, I’ll just show you the entire press release the rooftops just sent around:

Wrigleyville Rooftops Association Setting the Record Straight
Rooftop owners exasperated by inaccurate statements by Ricketts family

CHICAGO – The Wrigleyville Rooftops Association wants five facts to be known as the Cubs’ self-imposed April 1 Wrigley Field renovation deadline approaches:

1. The Ricketts family does not need to renegotiate their 2004 landmark ordinance agreement with the City of Chicago by April 1 to move forward with renovation plans. The landmark ordinance protects the “uninterrupted sweep of the bleachers” – not updating the clubhouses, public restrooms and various guest amenities. Nothing has prevented the Cubs from making these improvements except to use the renovation debate as an excuse to drive away the Rooftops.

2. The Ricketts family was well-aware of the 20-year contract signed in 2004 with the Rooftop owners when they purchased the team. Two of the top people in the Cubs’ current organization, Cubs President Crane Kenney and Mike Lufrano, Executive Vice President, Community Affairs/General Counsel, negotiated the contract and profit sharing agreement with the Rooftop owners.

3. As reported by media outlets this week, the Ricketts family attempted to purchase five Rooftops in 2011 and place signage-including a jumbotron-on the properties. The Ricketts family’s idea back then was nearly identical to the compromise solution being offered to them today.

4. The Ricketts family requested public financing for the renovation even knowing they are about to receive an enormous financial windfall. The Cubs have publicly stated they intend to sell broadcast rights for their product next year, possibly even saying goodbye to their partner of many decades, WGN television. Here’s what the Ricketts know: a similar deal negotiated by the Los Angeles Dodgers in a like-sized media market was recently signed for $7 BILLION.

5. Many of the Rooftop owners have lived and invested in the Wrigleyville community for more than 30 years when the neighborhood was much different. Upon engaging in a partnership with the Cubs in 2004, they proceeded to collectively invest $50 million to upgrade and enhance their facilities. The Rooftop owners have collectively paid the Cubs approximately $25 million in royalties and are scheduled to pay another $45 million over the next decade. Unilaterally changing a contract without one party’s consent is unfair to any business let alone your neighbors of 30 years.

Beth Murphy, longtime owner of Murphy’s Bleachers, adds, “Our win-win advertising plan would dedicate 100% of all revenues from signs on rooftops to the Cubs to renovate Wrigley Field and help improve community needs. Signs on rooftops were proposed by the Ricketts family two years ago when they tried to buy a rooftop, so we’re confused why it isn’t good enough for them now. The Ricketts family should honor the contract we signed in 2004 that was negotiated by current Cubs’ top executives. There is no reason to block our views.”

The Rooftops are a tremendous economic engine creating significant revenue for city, county and state government.

There are so many reactions …

  • This release doesn’t come out if the sides are feeling good about a deal. The April 1 deadline to have a broad renovation deal in place (which includes funding mechanisms like outfield signage) is coming quickly, and I suddenly feel less than optimistic. Unless …
  • Maybe this is a sign that the rooftops are about to be abandoned by the political entities that had been aiding them to this point? The talk about honoring the contract – which is in place between the Cubs and the rooftops through 2024 – and the discussion of the previous rooftop plan to place advertising on the rooftop buildings makes me wonder if the rooftops are afraid that they’re going to simply be ignored when the final deal is struck, and this is their desperation play. (To whom, exactly, I’m not sure. Residents in the area? Politicians? Cubs fans?)
  • The first point in the release may technically be correct, but, as I’ve said many times before, I can’t blame the Ricketts Family for refusing to start signing renovation checks when they don’t know what funding mechanisms are going to be available to them.
  • That the Ricketts Family planned to place advertisements on buildings they would have purchased in 2011 doesn’t necessarily settle things today. For example, maybe they’ve since realized that ads on the rooftop buildings won’t pay as well as in-stadium ads. Or perhaps the only reason they were willing to accept ads on the rooftops back then was because they were going to own a portion of those rooftops. I really don’t know. I don’t think any of us outside of the negotiations do.
  • The TV deal thing seems like a red herring. The fact that the Cubs are going to ink a new TV deal in the coming years really doesn’t relate directly to the funding of a renovation of Wrigley Field in quite the same way that revenue-adding activities at Wrigley Field does. Further, a new TV deal is not certain to approach the level of the Dodgers’ deal for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that only the WGN portion of the Cubs’ TV deal is up in 2014, and that’s fewer than half of the games. That said, could the Ricketts Family start renovations by paying out of their own pocket in anticipation of the TV deal? Sure. Should they have to? I’m not sure they should.
  • Maybe it’s the former lawyer in me, but I don’t have a problem with the rooftops resting on the contract that the Cubs signed with them in 2004. The question, though, is to what extent the Cubs can unilaterally block rooftop views without breaching the contract (or, to what extent they can negotiate a change of that agreement, or can breach the agreement in a way that still generates more revenue than they would lose by way of the breach)? Once again, only those who’ve extensively reviewed the contract can say for sure. The language in this release doesn’t indicate to me that the Cubs would necessarily be breaching the contract by erecting blocking signage, as it feels like more of a plea for fairness.
  • I’m not sure anything in the rooftops’ current arguments are going to persuade anyone who is ardently against them, nor turn anyone who supports them away. To me, it’s the same as it’s always been: if there’s a compromise that keeps the rooftops in business without unnecessarily or unreasonably sapping Cubs resources, then great, let’s get that compromise done. If it increases the revenue coming into the Cubs organization, all the better.
  • The timing of the release is interesting, given that the community meeting about Wrigley renovations is taking place tonight in about two hours.

The Cubs aren’t going to be happy about this release, but it seems to me that, if it’s come to this, they’ve already cut off negotiations anyway. Perhaps the Cubs will now simply wait for the April 1 deadline to come and pass, and then they’ll start exploring non-Wrigley options. Perhaps the rooftops have already been cut out of the loop, and an unfavorable deal for them is already coming down the pipeline.

It’s unbelievable that things have gotten to this point, but there are a lot of dollars at stake, so I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that every side is fighting tooth and nail.

[Disclosure: Some of the rooftops advertise on BN, but that has not impacted the way I’ve covered this ongoing story.]

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Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.