Chicago Cubs fans could soon have fewer places to catch a Chicago Cubs game from a nearby rooftop.
The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of lawsuit brought to prevent the Chicago Cubs from erecting video screens which blocked the view from the rooftops which surround the outfield of Wrigley Field.
Right Field Rooftops, which controls two buildings and businesses that sell tickets to view Cubs games and other events at Wrigley Field, filed the lawsuit after the Cubs organization moved forward with plans to expand the bleacher seating.
The 2014 project included increasing the bleachers’ seating capacity by several hundred and raising the height of the bleachers by about 40 feet. Also included was a new fan deck, increased signs and video boards. The renovation would have largely blocked the view from the rooftop businesses.
In its court filings, Right Field alleged the Cubs violated antitrust laws and breached an agreement reached between the team and the rooftop owners in 2004. The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, denied motions from the businesses to grant a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction. The court did grant the Cubs’ motion to dismiss the complaint.
Right Field appealed to the 7th Circuit. However, the company struck out on all of its arguments as the appellate affirmed the district court in Right Field Rooftops, LLC, et al. v. Chicago Cubs Baseball Club, LLC, et al., 16-3582.
Baseball fans have long enjoyed the view of Wrigley Field from the roofs of the nearby buildings. In the mid-1980s, the rooftop owners converted their flat-topped roofs into bleacher-style grandstands and charged patrons for viewing the Cubbies.
The team cried foul but eventually enter into a licensing agreement in 2004. As part of the agreement, the rooftop business would pay the Cubs 17 percent of their gross revenue in exchange for a view of the action.
In 2014, the Cubs, having gotten approval from the city of Chicago, starting work on the expansion project. Right Field Rooftops filed its suit in January 2015.
Before the 7th Circuit, the Rooftops argued, in part, that certain conduct by the Cubs constitutes monopolistic behavior in violation of the Sherman Act.
The Supreme Court of the United States exempted baseball from federal antitrust laws in Federal Baseball Club of Baltimore v. National League of Professional Baseball Clubs, 259 U.S. 200 (1922). There, the justices ruled the Sherman Act had no application to the “business (of) giving exhibitions of base ball” because such “exhibitions” are “purely state affairs.”
However, the Rooftops asserted their claims were outside of the scope of the baseball exemption because they did not concern the “rules and restrictions related to baseball itself.”
The 7th Circuit called a strike.
“But we do not view the Cubs’ conduct as attenuated to the business of baseball,” Judge William Bauer wrote. “By attempting to set a minimum ticket price, purchasing rooftops, threatening to block rooftops with signage that did not sell to the Cubs, and beginning construction at Wrigley Field, the Cubs conduct is part and parcel of the ‘business of providing public baseball games for profit’ that Federal Baseball and its progeny exempted from antitrust law.”
The 7th Circuit also did not find merit with the Rooftops’ other arguments that the Cubs had violated the 2004 licensing agreement, that owner Thomas Ricketts had violated the non-disparagement provision in the license agreement and that the district court erred in denying their motion to amend.