The Wrigley Field Rooftops and the Chicago Cubs: Can Their Legal Issues Be Resolved?

By Nick Ustaski

July 31, 2015

When a person visits the city of Chicago or the Chicagoland area, Wrigley Field is often a destination many tourists and locals continue to go see not only because it houses a professional baseball organization, but because of its historic values. Wrigley Field was first built in 1914 as Weeghman Park and in 1916 became the home of the Chicago Cubs baseball team. In 1927, Wrigley Gum company owner William Wrigley purchased the field and team and the rest is history. Unfortunately for the Cubs and many fans, this history has not been a good one as the Cubs have not won a world series since 1908 and Wrigley Field has never won a world series at all.  Flash forward to the 2000’s; both the city of Chicago and the Cubs are a hot spot and popular destination. The area surrounding Wrigley Field is now called Wrigleyville and has become a famous neighborhood in Chicago. Having a professional baseball team play in one of your neighborhoods is a unique aspect to Chicago, but to have Wrigleyville surround the field is something truly special. Another unique aspect to Wrigley Field and the topic of this legal discussion is the Wrigleyville Rooftops because there is truly nothing like in the rest of sports. In no other sport or baseball field are there rooftops that are so high outside a stadium that allows spectators to watch from outside the baseball field itself. It is truly a historic site to see these buildings surround the field, which makes Wrigley field so special and unique. Since 1914, people have come to Wrigley Field not even as Cubs fans to watch a game and just to take in the experience either sitting inside Wrigley or watching from outside the stadium in the rooftops. However in 2002, the first steps to make major changes to Wrigley Field began forever altering “the friendly confines”, a nickname given to the field for its welcome attitude of all fans.

In 2002, the Chicago Cubs organization filed a lawsuit against the different owners and facilities of the Wrigleyville Rooftops for copyright infringement. Since these owners and operators charged admission for fans to use their facilities and to watch the games, the Cubs asserted that the rooftop operators were essentially stealing a copyrighted Major League Baseball game. Eventually in 2004, many of the rooftop owners settled with the Cubs and agreed to pay a percentage of their gross income for the Cub’s official endorsement. When the Rickett’s family, the Cubs current owners, purchased the team they decided it was finally time to make upgrades to the historic Wrigley Field and bring it into the modern era. This year 2015 was a great change for those who live in the Wrigleyville area and for Cubs’ fans as the Rickett’s family themselves purchased more of the rooftop buildings surrounding the stadium. Some of the rooftops owners were ok with selling to Ricketts, as they believe the rooftops are truly an expansion of the field and it is right the Cubs owner’s right owns them. However, the three rooftops privately owned are resisting a buyout. Each of the remaining owners has sued the team in federal court for the recent actions it’s owners have taken. But in today’s sporting world, owners are also looking for a way to expand their team’s revenue. The Cubs for example, are rumored to desire a plaza, nearby hotel, and street fairs similar to those seen around other teams in the MLB. The Cubs have already taken the initial steps of their renovations with fixed up outfield bleachers and for the first time in Wrigley field’s vast history electronic scoreboards in left and right field.

These scoreboards are what have brought this legal issue to national attention. They are so big that they completely block the view of many of the Wrigley Field Rooftop view of the game. This is a smart strategy by the Rickett’s family to cut off potential revenue from the rooftops that they do not control. However, it does also hurt a part of the history of Wrigley Field and its uniqueness. An electronic scoreboard and video board do help bring the field in the modern era, but it does take away apart that made Wrigley Field so special and unique. The rooftop owners have now filed a lawsuit accusing the team of violating the terms and agreement of their revenue-sharing contract and attempting to create a monopoly on the market for Cubs game tickets. This is of course in response to the scoreboards from the Wrigley Field renovation project as mentioned above. The legal debate here has been going on since the initial settlement in 2004, but has recently regained momentum the past few weeks. The rooftop owners believe it is unfortunate that they were forced to take another legal action against the Cubs, but believe that the Wrigley Field renovations are greatly hurting them. In the end, it comes down to money and whether or not the Cubs owners want to continue to change Wrigley Field, altering a baseball field with such rich history and historic past connected to Cubs fans and the city of Chicago.