Latest court filings in rooftop battle paint Cubs execs as snarling bullies
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On the baseball diamond, the Chicago Cubs might be a soft touch.
But in the business world, the franchise’s executives operated like a cross between Don Corleone and General Patton, owners of the Wrigley Field rooftops suggest.
“We control the city,” the Cubs’ President of Business Operations Crane Kenney allegedly said during one high-stakes phone conversation, according to the latest version of a lawsuit filed by rooftop owners in their long-running legal battle with the Cubs.
“Just wait, we are firing the death blow,” he allegedly threatened another owner whose views of the ballpark were about to be blocked by a Jumbotron.
The alleged trash-talking wouldn’t have seemed out of place during a crosstown classic tailgate party. But in the context of the fight over the rooftop owners’ rights to their historic views of Wrigley Field, it crossed the line from macho posturing to illegality, the rooftop owners say.
The suit alleges that the Cubs’ threats were part of a scheme to break the terms of a revenue-sharing contract with the rooftop owners, so that the Cubs could assume an illegal monopoly over views of the ballpark and jack up ticket prices. The Cubs used the threats to drive down the values of the rooftops after the rooftop owners refused to collude with them in a price-fixing scheme, it alleges.
Cubs lawyer Andrew Kassof said the Cubs will fight the lawsuit, adding that the redevelopment of Wrigley Field is in the interests of fans and the city, if not the rooftop owners. But he declined to comment on the accuracy of the threatening quotes and hardball methods attributed to Kenney.
Kenney is accused of trying to force rooftop owners to sell up to the Cubs at below-market prices by improperly threatening to block their views of the ballpark, in violation of a deal that was not supposed to expire until 2023.
When one of the rooftop owners, Ed McCarthy, offered to sell at what he called a “fair market” price in July last year, Kenney allegedly responded, “that is a good deal if you have a rooftop business, but once we put the signs up, you don’t have a rooftop business.”
Referring to the Cubs’ ability to get planning permission for extra advertising signage approved by the City Council, he allegedly added, “We control the city.”
After offering McCarthy a “grossly unfair” price for his rooftop, Kenney allegedly concluded the call by asking, “How hard is it going to be to sell tickets when you have no glimpse of Wrigley Field?”
Then, in December, moments before he announced plans to relocate a 2,200-square-foot video board in front of several rooftops, he told rooftop owner Mark Schlenker, “Just wait, we are firing the death blow,” the suit states.
A $375 million redevelopment of Wrigley Field began in the fall, but the rooftop owners want U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall to issue an injunction preventing the Cubs from blocking their views, before the baseball season starts, and to award them financial damages.