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Losing season, housing hurt rooftop biz

Baseball fans watch from a roof-top deck across the street from Wrigley field as the Chicago Cubs play in Chicago, Ill.

TEXT OF STORY

BILL RADKE: Even if you're not a huge baseball fan, I recommend a trip to the Chicago Cubs' Wrigley Field. It's in a residential neighborhood, and a bunch of the apartment buildings next door have views right into the ball park. So as a side business, the owners of these buildings charge fans to watch the Cubs from their rooftops.

This year, reports Chicago's Tony Arnold, business has been tough.


TONY ARNOLD: Steve Alexander is with 3639 Wrigley Rooftop. It's one of about 20 buildings overlooking Wrigley Field.

STEVE ALEXANDER: We are now standing on the 7th level. This is what we consider our stadium seating. It's the highest point in the building.

Earlier this year, Alexander was charging about $200 per fan. He says his business is directly connected to how the Cubs perform.

ALEXANDER: We'd be lying if we said it does not affect, but I think it affects it more coming down the home stretch.

The Cubs are nearly 20 games out of first place in their division and have little hope of making the playoffs. So the rooftops are just trying to bring in customers.

Online, tickets are going for $150 less than they normally would. A losing season is nothing new for the Cubs, but this year's skid has run smack into the continued slump in the housing market.

Allen Sanderson is a sports economist at the University of Chicago. He says the rooftops face more risk because of the nature of their business.

ALLEN SANDERSON: They're not immune from specific housing market conditions nor are they immune from the fortunes or misfortunes of the Chicago Cubs.

One of the buildings is even going through foreclosure. The bad economy is also scaring off corporate events that had been the backbone of the rooftop fan base. Sanderson says there is hope for the rooftops, though.

The new owners of the Chicago Cubs -- the Ricketts family -- have invested in one of the buildings. He says that shows the team has faith that the rooftops will continue to bring in money. It's a far cry from a few years ago -- when the Cubs went so far as to put up giant wind screens to block the view of the field. That is, until the rooftop owners agreed to give the Cubs 17 percent of their earnings.

Steve Alexander says there's no more bad blood -- and he welcomes the Cubs' owners into the neighborhood.

ALEXANDER: The Cubs are going to be fine, the city's going to be fine, the rooftops will be fine. You know, it's just a little bump in the road and everybody's going to make adjustments and everybody just has to run their businesses a little closer to the vest.

Alexander says he'll take a hit for the rest of this season. But he's banking on the motto of Cubs fans -- that things will be better next year.

In Chicago, I'm Tony Arnold for Marketplace.

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