Sports Law Blog
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Monday, January 12, 2004

Cubs Reach Deal with Rooftop Owners: The Chicago Cubs have reached a deal with owners of 11 of the 13 buildings on which there are rooftop seats overlooking Wrigley Field. The twenty-year agreement calls for the owners to give the team 17 percent of their revenues, which could be as much as $2 million per year.

The Cubs sued the owners in December of 2002 for stealing the team's product, copyright infringement and unjust enrichment at the Cubs' expense. The lawsuit followed a failed attempt by the Cubs to expand the bleachers at Wrigley by 2000 seats. The team has not completely shelved the idea of expansion, but now would have to compensate the owners of the buildings if it did so. As one person said, by reaching this deal, the Cubs achieved a "de facto expansion" and will get $2 million "for doing nothing."

Two of the owners declined to join the agreement and will proceed to trial. Their case pits the tradition of rooftop seating versus the modern economics of pro sports. Twenty years ago, people sat for free in lawn chairs. Now, however, with $15-$17 in admission being charged, I believe the team has a legitimate claim that their product is being misappropriated. It is unfortunate that the team will seek to prevent people from supporting the team, but it is a result of building owners seeking to profit from what was once a harmless, and very unique, tradition.

You can read more about the rooftop tradition here.

Update: Euguene Volokh offers a very insightful look into the Cubs' copyright and misappropriation claims on his blog.