Fed. Judge Smacks Down Rooftops; Rob Manfred Favors Live, Local Streaming of Games

Ding-dong, the witch is dead! Well, except for the witch part. Oh, and the dead thing. And it wasn’t so much a house landing on anyone as it was signs going up and blocking their view. But there’s no place like the Chicago Cubs’ home, even with the construction that can now continue thanks to the ruling from Judge Virginia Kendall in federal court today.

I’ve excerpted portions of her opinion below and you can read the full text here.

A few things are inevitable when it comes to spring baseball at Wrigley Field: the ivy won’t be green, the weather won’t be warm, there will be many who say, “This is the year,” and there will be a battle between the Chicago Cubs and the rooftop businesses that surround Wrigley Field. This spring is no different.

The Cubs, under the new ownership of the Ricketts family, are working to make THIS year the year, and in doing so, have received a government-issued permit to update the Friendly Confines with electronic signs and video boards that will entirely block the views of the field from the Rooftop clients. The Rooftops have cried foul and want the signs down, or they assert they will be put out of business entirely. The Cubs instead claim that their move is fair and within the expected understanding of the parties when they entered into the License Agreement eleven years ago.

The ultimate dispute hinges on both contract and antitrust claims. Because the Court finds that the Cubs did not breach the 2004 License Agreement and are exempt from being accused of antitrust violations under clearly established Supreme Court precedent, and even if they were not, the Cubs did not engage in anti-competitive behavior, the Court denies the Rooftops’ Motion for Preliminary Injunction primarily because the Rooftops have no likelihood of success on the merits. All of the other factors also weigh in favor of the Cubs as set forth below.

It’s important to note that this decision was simply to deny the rooftops’ request for a preliminary injunction, and thus does not end the battle entirely. And while this was the expected outcome, it certainly allows the Cubs to breathe a little easier and lends a bit more confidence to the burgeoning excitement surrounding the team this year.

One area that hasn’t exactly been rife with warm fuzzies is the television broadcast rights for Cubs baseball, a topic that has grown pretty convoluted since last season. There will be at least four stations carrying games, though nearly one third of the season was going to be unavailable on a national basis.

Thankfully, several local stations have opted to pick up most or all of the games that were to have been shown only in the Chicagoland area on WGN-9 and ABC-7. And that’s all well and good, but it doesn’t address the issue with MLB.tv being blacked out in the Cubs’ viewing market.

In the article linked immediately above, I had lamented the fact that MLB.tv doesn’t offer team-specific or customizable packages, though that might all be a moot point in the near future. That is, if what MLB commissioner Rob Manfred shared during a Q&A with the Wall St. Journal comes to pass.

WSJ: You’ve discussed how important technology is to reach young fans. When will a 15-year-old in New York be able to watch a Yankees game on his phone?

Manfred: The best way to answer that question is to say the better part of my workday today was consumed by the topic of in-market streaming. It is particularly complicated in the context of a media market that is changing so quickly, but I do believe we will get a solution on in-market streaming in the relatively near future.

WSJ: Sometime this year?

Manfred: I hope so. I’d like to believe there will be games streamed at some point this year.

Sweet! This would be perfect for those like myself who need to have their phones or tablets surgically removed from our hands at the end of the day. Or for commuters who spend more time on the bus or train than they do in front of their TV. Or for the unfortunate traveler who’s out of his local market and staying with an aunt who still has, gasp!, standard def.

Live streaming isn’t necessarily competition for television, at least not from where I’m standing at this point. I mean, I’d much rather sit my lazy rear end in my recliner and bask in the glory of 60 inches of pristine HD baseball as I sip a beer. Yes, I’m an effete SOB. But if I’m the go, I’d love to have the option of watching the my team on my phone.

It’ll feel even better Sunday night, but these two little tidbits of news are pretty exciting if you’re a Cubs fan.


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