Naming rights for Franklin ballpark at center of Routine Baseball lawsuit

Company says it never signed deal with Milwaukee Milkmen owner

Routine Baseball lawsuit alleges signage was put up without approval
Fans line up for tickets at the box office at Routine Field for the Milwaukee Milkmen's home opener.

Last updated on August 28th, 2019 at 05:43 pm

When ROC Ventures announced Routine Baseball as the naming rights sponsor for the Ballpark Commons in Franklin in September 2018, it was described as a 10-year, seven-figure deal that brought together a local company and a new entertainment destination.

The only problem is, according to a Routine Baseball lawsuit filed Friday, a final naming rights deal never came together even though the Franklin-based company’s name and logo are featured prominently at the stadium dubbed Routine Field.

Mike Zimmerman, managing partner of ROC Ventures (which owns the Milwaukee Wave and the Milwaukee Milkmen) says the lawsuit is “outrageous.”

Milwaukee-based ROC Ventures developed the 4,000-seat stadium as part of the Ballpark Commons project at The Rock Sports Complex in Franklin. The field is home to the Milwaukee Milkmen, an independent minor league professional baseball team that started playing games there this year.

“For a company to claim they never had a contract for a naming rights deal but at the same point call the naming rights deal ‘the biggest milestone yet’ for their company via their website and social media channels doesn’t seem to add up,” Zimmerman wrote to BizTimes Milwaukee in an email.

He pointed to a July television interview Routine president Michael DeGrave participated in that highlighted how the naming rights benefited his company.

DeGrave declined to respond to any of Zimmerman’s comments, except to say “that we have confidence in each and every allegation in our complaint.”

The lawsuit alleges the signage at the field with Routine’s name and logo was installed without the company’s approval, entities related to ROC Ventures piled up more than $100,000 in unpaid merchandise invoices and infringed on Routine trademarks by advertising a giveaway with “unlawfully obtained Bobbleheads.”

Zimmerman said Routine has not paid for the naming rights deal and ROC Ventures has significant financial claims against Routine. The two sides have already engaged in settlement talks that broke down, he said.

“In our opinion their attempt to file a lawsuit first – infused with absurd claims – is nothing more than a PR stunt and designed to cause external pressure on us given the high profile nature of the project,” Zimmerman wrote.

He added that it was unfortunate the relationship with DeGrave “has degraded to this point.”

“We will not back down to their nefarious intents and plan on proceeding legally going forward,” Zimmerman wrote.

A letter of intent was signed

Routine Baseball, a Franklin-based lifestyle brand, and Complex Solutions LLC, a related Franklin-based merchandising company, did reach a non-binding letter of intent in July 2018 with ROC Ventures LLC, Ballpark Commons LLC and Lifestyle Sports Apparel LLC, according to court documents.

The letter called for Routine to pay $150,000 per year as part of a five-year naming rights deal with Ballpark Commons, the mixed-use development around The Rock Sports Complex, including Routine Field. It also spelled out that Complex Solutions, which shares management with Routine, would be the exclusive merchandise and promotional product provider to all ROC Venture companies. Routine would also have signage at The Rock Sports Complex and first right to a retail location outside the stadium.

Other elements of the letter included Routine Baseball taking an 85% stake in Lifestyle Sports Apparel LLC and ROC Ventures taking 15% stakes in both Routine and Complex.

But the Routine Baseball lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for Eastern Wisconsin, alleges none of the contracts the letter of intent called for were ever fully negotiated and signed.

Instead, the complaint alleges that Zimmerman had Routine signage installed at the stadium in June 2019 without the approval of DeGrave or Routine.

When DeGrave inquired about selecting the signage, Zimmerman told him his choice did not fit the stadium design and could not be easily swapped out, according to text messages included in the complaint.

“So I really don’t have an option to choose my signage,” DeGrave said in the texts. The Routine Baseball lawsuit does not specify when the conversation took place.

The complaint also alleges that ROC Venture companies, including the Milwaukee Milkmen, Milwaukee Wave and Kokomo Jackrabbits, piled up more than $100,000 in unpaid invoices with Complex dating back to the start of the year.

Despite the alleged issues with trademarks and invoices, Routine operated a retail store during Milkmen home games “to determine what if any value could be made of the fact that signage had been installed at the ballpark without approval and despite no agreement having been reached regarding any use of Routine’s trademarks,” the complaint says.

DeGrave told Zimmerman on July 1 he was no longer interested in any business deal, the complaint says. Routine continued to operate the store and fulfill orders “in an effort to amicably part ways.”

Zimmerman says DeGrave and Routine only sought to “break their contracts” after notifying ROC Ventures that Routine would be sold to Kansas City-based JustBats.com.

“We have spent over a year on this partnership, borrowed $150,000 to Michael DeGrave personally so he could acquire controlling interest in Routine, have spent six figures to install signage with the Routine brand as the sole benefactor, and have invested roughly half of one million dollars with Complex and Routine as a customer to launch and grow the businesses of Complex Solutions and Routine,” Zimmerman wrote. “We have yet to receive any compensation for our efforts. Per our agreements we are entitled to ownership, certain rights and other compensation.”

The Routine Baseball lawsuit alleges that on Aug. 1, Zimmerman claimed to have a 15% ownership stake in Routine. In exchange for releasing his claim, Zimmerman asked for full payment of the contract through December 2020, an estimated $50,000 to replace Routine signage and turf, a reconciliation of revenue split and expenses at the team store, Complex becoming a preferred vendor for ROC Ventures and Complex issuing 15% stock to ROC Ventures.

“Mike, anything less than the above would simply not be fair,” Zimmerman allegedly wrote in an Aug. 1 email to DeGrave. “This still allows us to work together but does not force us to. That will have to be earned back in light of breaking these deals.”

On Aug. 9, Zimmerman allegedly had the locks changed on the retail store operated by Routine, blocking DeGrave and other employees from accessing it.

The same day, an attorney for Zimmerman, ROC Ventures, LSA and the Milwaukee Milkmen sent a letter to DeGrave claiming an ownership interest in Routine and alleging breach of contract. Routine’s attorneys sent a letter to Zimmerman demanding removal of the stadium signage with the company’s name on it, according to the complaint.

Dispute over bobbleheads

The complaint also alleges that on Aug. 20 an employee of ROC Ventures or the Milkmen contacted a Complex vendor to have an order of bobbleheads for fan appreciation night sent to the Milkmen instead of Complex. The bobbleheads were originally ordered in May before the business relationship went south.

When DeGrave learned the shipment was rerouted, he contacted the vendor to have it sent to Complex as originally planned, the complaint says.

The next day, the same ROC Ventures employee allegedly contacted FedEx and again rerouted the shipment to the Milkmen. Zimmerman signed for the bobbleheads at 10 a.m. on Aug. 21, according to the complaint.

DeGrave went as far as calling the police about the shipment, but was eventually told the issue was likely a civil matter, prompting him to file the lawsuit, the complaint says.

Zimmerman says that FedEx called ROC Ventures to coordinate shipping the day of and his company paid for them. He alleges that DeGrave planned to hold the bobbleheads “as ransom” or embarrass the team “by sabotaging the experience for our fans.”

“Either way we viewed the behavior as unprofessional and with great karma that they were shipped directly to (us),” Zimmerman wrote.

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Arthur Thomas
Arthur covers manufacturing for BizTimes. He previously was managing editor at The Waukesha Freeman. He is a graduate of Carroll University and did graduate coursework at Marquette. A native of southeastern Wisconsin, he is also a nationally certified gymnastics judge and enjoys golf on the weekends.