Lawyers for the Major League Baseball club filed suit in U.S. District Court against the owners of 13 businesses overlooking historic Wrigley Field they say use the team's product but pay nothing, siphoning off millions in revenue.
"The free ride is over," said team President Andy MacPhail after negotiations with the rooftop club owners failed to produce a revenue-sharing agreement acceptable to both sides.
Gone are the innocent days of apartment dwellers inviting a few friends over to go up on the roof and drink beer while the Cubbies played across the street.
Television sports directors always showed local color of fans sunbathing on roofs, barbecuing or watching the games in lawn chairs with a beverage in hand across from the 88-year-old ballpark during the idyllic summer months.
Late Hall of Fame broadcaster Harry Caray loved saluting fans on the rooftops and the ball hawks waiting for a home run ball to land on Waveland Avenue as much as the acknowledging paying fans inside the park.
The scene surrounding the most famous of the urban ballparks became part of the once gritty neighborhood's charm -- sort of an elevated knothole in a fence -- but no more.
As the neighborhood gentrified in the late 1970s, speculators bought up most of the buildings with decent sightlines of the field and installed professional decks with stands and seats, then corporations grabbed the choicest spots and opened upscale "clubs" charging $70 to $110 per game.
The team estimates there are 1,000 rooftop and club seats.
"We do not believe the rooftop operators are entitled to profit from our name, our players, our trademarks, our copyrighted telecasts and our images without our consent," the team said Monday.
The suit estimates members of the Wrigleyville Rooftop Owners Association make $10 million a year from their proximity to the unofficial landmark. City Hall has proposed formal landmark status for Wrigley Field.
The Tribune Co., which owns the Cubs, put up windscreens around the bleachers last season to block the view from rooftops but admitted the ham-handed tactic was a mistake.
Obscuring the view only angered community activists who opposed the team's plans to add 1,600 bleacher seats and play more night games.
MacPhail said rooftop owners had reneged on a profit-sharing licensing offer of $14 per person and said they now insist Wrigley Field preserve its existing sightlines, ruling out bleacher expansion.