by Kent Sterling
The battle between the Cubs and the owners of the rooftop saloons that overlook Wrigley Field from across Waveland and Sheffield Avenues is a little like a grade school fight between bullies. Both guys losing is the only acceptable outcome.
Cubs owner Smilin’ Tommy Ricketts would like to erect giant video boards that obstruct the view of the rooftop patrons. The revenue from the advertising on those video boards was to pay for the renovation to Wrigley Field that was to render it a reasonable facsimile of a major league ballpark.
Those signs would obstruct the view of those perched on the rooftops across the street, which transforms them into ultra expensive bars without a competitive advantage over the simply expensive bars near Wrigley.
The Wrigleyville Rooftop Association released a statement today reaffirming its desire for a day to court to settle the fracas, “This is an unfortunate turn of events because our hope was to find a solution to this matter. Rooftop owners believe any blockage of our views violates the contract we have with the owners of the Cubs. We have instructed our legal team to proceed accordingly.”
Picking sides in this fight is futile. The Cubs are money grubbers convinced that fielding a non-competitive team with the third highest average ticket prices in baseball is the right way to run a professional sports franchise, and the rooftop owners are comfortable selling tickets to watch a game they have no right to offer.
Sure, Cubs resident business “genius” (the quotes indicate sarcasm for anyone who is confused by them) Crane Kenney negotiated a contract with the owners in 2003 that legitimizes the piracy of the view from areas less distant from the field than seats in many stadiums, but that only makes it legal, not right.
That deal was negotiated during a previous ownership, and its existence does not please Ricketts, who bought that deal along with the team.
The 20-year contract expires in 2023, which means that if the Cubs plan changes to Wrigley Field that affects the sight lines from the rooftops to the games, the rooftop owners have a packet of papers they can wave under a judges nose to stop the Cubs as surely as the Red Line passing the park distracts Starlin Castro when he’s at shortstop.
Over the past few weeks, the Cubs and rooftop owners have gotten together to try to work out a deal that would allow everyone to get what they want, but there appears to be such an advanced level of acrimony and distrust between the two organizations that it was doomed before it started.
Both sides say they hoped for an amicable outcome, but like divorcing couples, hoping for amicable means the other side admits the error of its ways and surrenders. Amicability never equates to meeting in the middle.
The Cubs wait to erect their video boards, and the rooftop owners continue to take reservations for groups who want to drink and eat unlimited amounts for a fixed price while watching another pathetic Cubs team destined again to lose 90+ games.
As the Cubs continue to suck, the demand for rooftop tickets will decline. If that goes on long enough, the property value of the buildings upon which these saloons are perched will decline. For the Cubs, without the signs they will lose the revenue stream that was going to pay for the renovation that allows Wrigley Field to exist for another 50 years. Without the improvements, the Cubs will have a tough time finding the cash to pay for the players needed to improve the team.
What we have here is mutually assured destruction the likes of which was preached to us by Joshua the Computer in “WarGames” as it almost started World War III just to see what would happen.
A judge will try to settle this mess, and the losing side will appeal. At some point in that process, 2023 will come and the agreement will expire. The rooftop owners will lose their legal standing, and the Cubs will lower the boom and raise the signs.
This fight isn’t going to end soon, but it will end ugly. And there is a hell of a lot better chance it will end with two losers. Someday in the 22nd Century it will be part of the curriculum in a University of Chicago class that attempts to explain just how dumb human beings used to be.