Since David Kaplan put out a piece with sections of the contract between the rooftops and the Chicago Cubs, it’s been analyzed by lawyers, by bloggers who used to be lawyers, and now, by a blogger who knows a lawyer. First, Brett Taylor at BleacherNation and Julie DiCaro from Aerys Sports offered their interpretations. Both think that the Cubs are in a strong position. Today, I had the opportunity to consult with an attorney I have grown to trust the opinion of. He offered perspectives to me from both sides of the dispute.
From the rooftops owner’s perspective, I was told that they would likely try to take the Cubs into arbitration, as is called for in the contract, but would likely only do that as a way to work on getting more information from the Cubs in discovery and to leverage a more advantageous settlement from the Cubs. I was also told that, if he were working for the rooftop owners, he would file an injunction to stop a potential move out of Wrigley if it were to come to that. He cited, without reading the entire document, the contract that the rooftops have to view into Wrigley. Without knowing if there is specific language in the contract which allows or disallows the Cubs from leaving Wrigley Field during the contract, he said the rooftops could have a case for damages if the Cubs were to leave during the term of the agreement. He also told me that anything the rooftops did in litigation against the Cubs would not be to win, but to broker a settlement that works in their favor because they have the luxury of time. The contract does not expire for another ten years, whereas the Cubs are seeking to renovate their ball park as soon as possible. In the end, though, he said that the rooftop owners are likely fighting an uphill battle, and if the Cubs wanted to see an arbitration process until the end, the rooftops would probably not like the end result.
From the Cubs’ perspective, I was told that the Cubs would want to settle this and make it go away quickly so that they can renovate their ballpark without the fear of litigation, which is what they have been trying to do for over a year. He pointed to the much discussed section, 6.6, which says:
6.6 The Cubs shall not erect windscreens or other barriers to obstruct the views of the Rooftops, provided however that temporary items such as banners, flags and decorations for special occasions, shall not be considered as having been erected to obstruct views of the Rooftops. Any expansion of Wrigley Field approved by governmental authorities shall not be a violation of this agreement, including this section.
Moving the footprint of the ballpark out, and doing so with governmental approval, which came from the Landmarks Commission and the City Council, could very easily be considered an expansion because the expansion in the contract is not specified to be adding seating capacity. He also said that expanding the footprint of the park to reduce the angle of the signs, which reduces the view lost by the affected rooftops, is a show of good faith by the Cubs to hold their end of the contract to the greatest extent possible. One last piece on the Cub perspective is that if they can show the rooftop owners were negotiating with the knowledge that they had no intention of settling, the Cubs could seek to recoup losses from the delay of their project. But that is the Hail Mary to end all Hail Marys, from what I am told, because it is nearly impossible to prove the other side had no intention to come to an agreement without them admitting it in some forum.
Update: After forwarding the additional information put out by David Kaplan to the lawyer I spoke with, I was told that the sections citing the Cubs potentially expanding the bleachers and royalties only strengthen their position, but not to the degree that it would change the course of action from the rooftops perspective. I was told that it seems as though the negotiations over the course of the last year between the parties very likely to broker a new royalties settlement, but that is nothing more than speculation.
Ultimately, the lawyer I talked to has not seen the contract in its entirety, nor does he practice in Illinois, so his knowledge of the laws there is limited. However, his judgment aligns neatly with that of the others who have discussed this contract. He also does not have a dog in the fight, so to speak, so he comes at it from a completely neutral perspective. It sets up nicely for the Cubs, but it is not a good idea to consider anything a slam dunk, lay-up, home run, or any other term to measure sure things. Judges are unpredictable creatures, and like everyone else, are human beings that can be swayed by emotions. He also added that it is probably not wise to think the Cubs could merely “out lawyer” the rooftop owners. He said if the rooftop owners were a “$20M drain on [the Cubs’] business” as Crane Kenney said at the Cubs Convention, then the rooftops have more than adequate resources to find a lawyer who can compete with who represents the Cubs. There stands to be a lot more to this story before we come to a final conclusion, but it seems as though the Cubs are in a strong position as things move forward.