We've all heard and read about the building feud between Cubs ownership and the rooftops across the street. The Cubs want to put up signage to help pay for their renovation of Wrigley Field (and the team on it), and the rooftops point to a contract that says they cannot be blocked out.
Depending on which newspaper or blog you read, the narrative on the rooftops has been either one of the small business trying to make its way or the leech that is stealing baseball and selling it for top dollar. I've discovered that neither are totally true. Very few things in life are black and white, and this topic is filled with gray areas.
The rooftops started being a thing decades ago, allowing people that lived in the apartments below the opportunity to sit on the roof and see a Cubs game. It evolved to the point where eventually you had to buy a ticket to get to the roof, and then many of the apartments were cleared out, renovated, and turned into full-blown business ventures. They were essentially stealing revenue from the Chicago Cubs.
The Cubs decided to block the views in 2002, which caused much arguing and political posturing. By 2004, they had reached an agreement that the rooftops could continue to do business so long as they paid 17% of their revenues to the Cubs.
No matter which side you agree with or whether you have something specific to gain from one side beating the other (I'm looking at you, Tom Tunney), we can all agree that this is likely to end poorly for the people who own the rooftops.
I've been vocal in the past about wanting the Cubs to be able to put up their signs. Every other team in baseball does it, it's a big part of how revenue is made in sports, and their contract with the rooftops actually allows for it (based on government approval, which they have). But that doesn't make me a small business hater.
Throughout this process, I've seen fans (and people I respect) call for a rooftop boycott. In the heat of the moment, I probably made a comment or two about never paying to watch a game on top of one of the Lakeview buildings. But last weekend, I did the unthinkable: I went to a game on a rooftop.
I'll lay down the scenario for you. My good friend is getting married in about a month and, for reasons you don't care about, I'm unable to attend his bachelor party. So I and another friend decided to take him out on the town and live it up last Saturday. He said he wanted to go to a Cubs game, so we looked into tickets.
The cheapest bleacher seats we could find at Wrigley were around $75, which made sense to me. Javy Baez was just called up, the Cubs had just played decent ball on a road trip, and it was a Saturday game in August. But we were planning on having a “really good time,” if you get what I mean. It's not the most economical place to go to have adult beverages.
So we found that rooftops on Sheffield, just beyond the right field wall, had an all-you-can-eat-and-drink deal for a little more than $100. Think about that for a second. I get to watch a Saturday afternoon Cubs game AND stuff my face? Where do I sign? The doors opened at 2:05pm for a 3:05 game, so, needless to say, we were standing outside the building waiting to get in.
Once there, we found a selection of beer far greater than that of Wrigley Field. There was a little lounge area for people to sit and listen to Pat and Ron (Coomer) on the radio. There was bleacher-type seating where the radio broadcast could still be heard, but also with a reasonable view of the field. The view was honestly as close as some of the seats I've had at Busch Stadium, even if the outfield was slightly obscured.
A cheeseburger, three hot dogs, two brats, and about ten Leinenkugel Summer Shandies later, we had sufficiently convinced ourselves that we had “gotten our money's worth.” However, we'd also convinced ourselves that we were funny, charming, and invincible. The truth falls somewhere in between, I guess.
The point of my story is that it opened my eyes to something I had only thought about briefly; Wrigley Field is where people go to watch a Cubs game and have fun. The rooftops are where people go to be social, get wasted, and have a good time, all while wearing Cubs clothes and in view of Cubs baseball.
I'd never tell you that you shouldn't go to a game at Wrigley Field; it's one of my favorite places on the planet and if you want to truly experience Cubs baseball, there is nowhere better to be. However, the rooftops can be a good time as well. It all depends on what your priorities are.
Those of you rubbing your hands together waiting for the day that these business owners get blocked out should try to remember that they are, in fact, small business owners. Small businesses often operate on thin profit lines, and these businesses contractually have the right to operate.
And those of you yelling about the Cubs being bad neighbors or Chicago politics catering to the billionaires (TUNNEY!), try to also remember that the Cubs are within their rights to put signs up. The rooftop business may need to reinvent themselves slightly, but based on the clientele I witnessed this last weekend, they shouldn't have a problem continuing business even if they are blocked out.
A few flat-screen televisions, a couple of other bells and whistles, and all of a sudden...no one cares about staring at the back of a giant scoreboard. If you want to see the game, go to Wrigley Field. If you want to party, be social, and drink a beer or ten, go to the Wrigleyville rooftops on a sunny summer day and live it up.
Maybe some things are black and white after all.
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