March 23, 2015

CHICAGO (AP) A lawyer for rooftop clubs overlooking Wrigley Field told a federal court Monday that if the Chicago Cubs are permitted to erect a giant video board blocking views of games from across the street it would kill their lucrative business.

Attorneys for the Cubs and two of the rooftops delivered seven hours of arguments in Chicago over whether Judge Virginia Kendall should order a halt to construction of the right-field sign until a wide-ranging lawsuit is resolved.

The rooftop businesses line streets outside Wrigley and offer views of Cubs games without going into the stadium. The Cubs have a revenue-sharing agreement with the private rooftop owners, but team owners say nothing in that 2004 deal prevents them putting up the video board and other signs that would obstruct the rooftop views.

The judge, who earlier this year rejected the rooftops clubs' emergency request to temporarily halt the installation, will be under pressure to issue this more decisive ruling before April 5 - the date of the Cubs' first home game home game of the season. She's expected to rule within several days.

One of the rooftop attorneys, Thomas Lombardo told Kendall that the video board would devastate his clients and he would face ''thousands of angry customers demanding refunds'' for tickets they bought in advance for the coming season.

But the Cubs, Kendall told Lombardo, clearly see the video board as critical to helping them generate the kind of revenue required for the team to make a credible World Series run.

''Where do you factor in 108 years of suffering Cubs fans?'' she asked Lombardo.

The Cubs might expect to lose some relatively modest ad revenue if they are barred from putting up the video board, he answered. But for the rooftops, he said, the consequence of letting it go up is that they go out of business.

''We're dead,'' he said.

Lombardo also accused the Cubs of violating antitrust law, saying it sought to ''bully'' rooftop properties into selling out to the Cubs. He said the Cubs bought at least some stake in four of 16 rooftops and, he alleged, they then altered plans to position signs in front rooftops not owned by the team.

''They are playing musical chairs with these signs. ... to destroy the competition,'' Lombardo said.

Cubs attorney, Daniel Laytin, dismissed the antitrust argument, saying it misrepresented the relationship of the Cubs to the rooftops. He said the relationship is not one of competitor to competitor, but one of producer to distributor - the Cubs being the producers of baseball games and the rooftops selling views of the game via the 2004 agreement. Antitrust laws don't apply in that kind of relationship, he said.

By putting up signs around the stadium, Laytin said, the Cubs were exercising a fundamental right to build on property they own.

''Putting up signs is an exercise in property rights not monopoly power,'' he said.

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