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Sprinkled throughout the conversation about the Cubs’ next color broadcaster, who will technically be hired by WGN-TV, you hear reminders that the Cubs’ contract with WGN, which allows the station to broadcast a little less than half of the Cubs’ games, expires after 2014. The rights to the majority of the remaining games are held by CSN, under an agreement that does not expire until 2019. With television rights fees exploding in recent years, it’s been assumed that the Cubs would seek a huge bump on that WGN contract when it expired, and there has been reason to wonder whether the Cubs might have to move on to another network, try to renegotiate with CSN to take over the whole lot of games, or try to buy out the CSN deal in favor of creating their own network, a la the Yankees and YES.

Well, based on a survey the Cubs recently sent a random selection of fans, it’s fair to guess that the Cubs are feeling out what life without WGN would be like. The survey touched on a wide variety of subjects including what folks like/dislike about the experience at Wrigley Field, how much folks spend at the ballpark, why do folks choose to attend certain games, etc.

But the portion that caught my eye, passed on by BN’er Liam, was this set of questions:

“How much of a role did WGN TV or Radio play in making you want to start following the Cubs?”

“How many Cubs games did you watch on WGN in 2012?”

I’d say the implications of these questions is pretty clear.

Why would the Cubs be asking about the importance of WGN to their national fan base unless they were arming themselves with data to make a decision about that relationship? I’d imagine the Cubs have been collecting this kind of data for a while now.

And it’s all designed to determine just how valuable it is to keep a portion of Cubs games on WGN, if, for example, the rate WGN is willing to pay per game is lower than that of a competitor (or a Cubs network).

The Cubs do have to be careful here, as (present company included) a huge number of non-Chicago-based Cubs fans became fans because of WGN. Without a national broadcast like that on a semi-daily basis, why would 12-year-old Joey Johnson in Columbus, Ohio become a Cubs fan? He probably wouldn’t.

But there is a certain reality here that we must confront: at bottom, cultivating new fans at a national level is really all about revenue (more fans = more money), and your average fan who doesn’t live in Chicago probably generates less revenue than your average fan who does live in Chicago. When you factor in the possible huge return on TV rights, working hard to retain a “national” TV presence feels less important.

Further, if and when the Cubs are actually good again, they’ll pick up some more of a national presence in the form of more national broadcasts, and media attention. Also, the baseball-viewing world is a lot less flat than it was 20 years ago – with products like MLB.tv and other forms of Internet consumption, preserving and growing a national fan base is easier than it was when it was WGN and a newspaper or bust.

In other words, as much as it pains me to be a child of WGN and to see that on the precipice of fading away, I can understand the Cubs’ desire to move on.

This survey is just the first of many steps, leading to something new. What that something will be, we might not know for another couple years.

  • soundCARDen

    As a fan who grew up watching WGN (and Harry and Steve), this makes me a bit sad.

    • cccubfan

      Me too. I grew up in the glory days (or that’s what I’d call ‘em) of WGN and Cub games with Jack Brickhouse on TV and Lou Boudreax and Vince Lloyd on the radio side. Have seen a lot change over the years of Hey Hey through Holy Cow…WGN would be missed…Business is business though and we, as fans wanting a winner, have to understand…

  • Dave_MKE

    If the Cubs hadn’t been on WGN when I was growing up in Madison, WI… I would have turned out to be a Brewers fan. U/:-(

  • Jason

    I grew up watching WGN. I live in “cardinal country” but spent my summers watching Dawson, Sandberg, Dunston, and Grace on WGN. I wouldn’t be a fan now if the cubs were not on tv so much. So the cubs have got to be careful.

  • Cy Lin

    I grew up watching Cubs on WGN back in 1988, after moving from Taiwan to Albuquerque NM as a 9 year old… I probably would not be a Cubs fan (Die Hard) today if not for WGN

  • CM

    As a lifelong Cub fan I can certainly say I have crossed the paths many times of people who have told me that the Cubs are their “second favorite team” because they were able to watch every game in the summer on WGN when they were growing up. In addition, I’ve many people who are Cubs fans for life because they lived in an area that never had much affilitation, and the Cubs were the only sports they could get regularly due to WGN. I’m a season ticket holder who gets to 4-8 games per year because of where I live, and an MLB.tv guy. That said, if there’s a game on WGN, that’s where I watch it and I’m still upset to this day every game isn’t on WGN. However, I think with the direction the Cubs are taking, they need to access every dollar available and we have certainly seen where the TV deals are going. I’m all for whatever allows us to be more consistently competitive, with the exception of leaving Wrigley Field.

  • Pete

    As long as the money made from a potential new deal goes back into the team, I’m all for it. A Cubs network would be awesome in my opinion.

  • JulioZuleta

    Tough to think about, because a 24 years old I still feel and appreciate the WGN nostalgia, and my parents do even more so. The broadcast just feels different on WGN (in a good way) than it does on Comcast. However, with the TV deals that teams are signing,and will continue to sign, you run the risk of being at a competitive disadvantage if you don’t cash in. I get the temptation to want to keep WGN, but that’s exactly the kind of warm/fuzzy mentality that has been partially responsible for the recent (104 year) slump we’ve been in.

    • Lou

      I couldn’t agree more. Is it really garnering a national audience or the color commentators that we remember (the Brickhouse’s and Caray’s of the world)? TBS tried in vain to garner a national audience for the Braves…even though it wasn’t clearly for as long a period as the Cubs, how well did that work? What most of remember might have been sizzle in terms of the entertainment value of production and less in terms of team play and performance? That is to say WGN production and Cubs gets an A. Cubs team development not so much.

  • daveyrosello

    I miss the days when WGN would broadcast EVERY SINGLE GAME of the 162-game season, except for about a half-dozen games when the Cubs took their annual west coast trip. You could watch the Cubs anytime, anywhere, for free. Teh awesome.

    • Frank

      Me too!

  • Ben (BG2383)

    I started watching the Cubs at the age of 4 in 1987 because the games were on when I got out of preschool (and then the following season Kindergarten)
    I live in Montgomery, AL and I hate to think what would have happened without WGN. I probably would have been a loser Braves fan. However, 25 years ago as you referenced the choices were limited for games and media consumption. Now, most every game is available nationwide if you have either Extra Innings package or MLBtv. It sucks when everything is decided by the almighty dollar, but I want the Cubs to win. So, I reluctantly agree that they should try and snag the most money possible. It is painful to think about them leaving WGN, but it seems inevitable.

  • Frank

    It is understandable, but sad–I can still hear Jack Brickhouse: “Santo, Kessinger, Beckert and Banks–the infield third to first . . .” And on school days, I’d run home to catch the end of the game on Channel 9 (that’s WGN for you non-locals).

    • CM

      Here’s a reason maybe we shouldn’t be so nostalgic: I’m friends with Glenn Beckert’s nephew. He’s a White Sox fan.

  • ron

    So your name was Joey Johnson when you were twelve?

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Brett Taylor is just my pen name.

  • Rich

    Gonna have to change that song at the end of games when they win…

    “catch them all on the Cubs Baseball Network”, doesn’t really roll of the tongue.

    or ” catch them all on CBN”…..crap that works..

    cue…STEVE GOODMAN – re-write….

    • Beer Baron

      “cue…STEVE GOODMAN – re-write…”

      And I thought winning the World Series was a tall order – this is really a tough one. Cue Zombie Steve Goodman?

    • hansman1982

      Cubs Universal Baseball System (CUBS) or some variant of that.
      Cubs Ultimate Baseball System
      Cubs Ultimate Broadcast Syndicate

  • AP

    I’m basically just echoing the sentiment so far. Growing up in Oklahma, I wouldn’t be a Cubs fan if it weren’t for WGN and it doesn’t seem right not being able to catch a game there. But, it’s no longer 1988 and seven year olds in Oklahoma aren’t limited to watching only the Cubs, Braves or White Sox…

    • AP

      Wow, I can’t even spell the name of my home state correctly…

  • http://worldseriesdreaming.com/ Rice Cube

    I was a Cubs fan because ESPN started showing the Big Mac-Sosa HR race a ton. But WGN was very useful for keeping tabs on them, too. I’d be surprised if the Cubs didn’t try to throw WGN a bone or two, but I wouldn’t be shocked if the WGN slice of the pie shrunk to 40 games or less.

  • Austin

    I live right around the bend in Michigan and I can only watch the games shown on WGN. CSN is and according to Dish (really starting to hate their service) will never be availiable to me where I live (I’ve called many times and half of the people I talked to didn’t even know who the Cubs were (really India))

    I’d be very dissapointed if the 5 games I actually CAN watch are blacked out.

  • Wrigley11

    The Cubs could also make the channel available through subscription, a lot like what YES does. I know that when I was at school, YES was included in the same sports entertainment package that had ESPNU, Fox Soccer, NFL Network, etc. Like you said, the landscape is a lot different than it was 20 years ago.

  • cub4life

    Being a lifelong cubs fan (albeit a young 35) and loving the days of watching almost every cubs game on WGN this makes me sad me, but at the same time nowaday’s with the such limeted coverage (almost every game the show i’m either at work or busy) I can get behind a Cubs network (but only if it has a national coverage like a WGN or CSN). That way we could get to see not only the games but also some of the past games and maybe even some of the minor league games (if they want to truly let Cubs fans see the future). So I am torn, WGN fan for a while, but Want to see more CUBS CUBS CUBS.

  • WI Jeff

    Selfishly, I enjoyed the daytime game broadcasts, Our family lived across the street from a retired elderly lady on the NW side of Chicago. In 1977 and 1978 my brother and I would pick flowers from the garden to give to her. In return, she would give us a bowl of ice cream and we would sit in front of her TV watching Herman Franks’ Cubs of Murcer, Bittner, Kingman, Buckner, Sutter, Krukow, and the Reuschel boys on countless days. Good Memories and day games that added to the Cubs national “fandom”. With computers and today’s streaming capabilities, I can get access anywhere, but my kids an other generations won’t channel surf into Cubs broadcast and then the “Good Times” Sit com like I did… LOL

  • https://www.facebook.com/chris.siuty Chris84

    It’s a different world out there now compared to when we were growing up. Kids don’t necessarily come home from school and turn on the TV — they turn on the computer. Hell, the have computers with built in phones in their pockets now.

    While I don’t doubt there’s people still discovering the Cubs through TV, I think eventually it’s going to be more about your presence online and less about your presence on television.

  • Mike

    Nostalgia aside, I prefer the in depth pre/post game coverage on Comcast and other sports channels vs. the abbreviated WGN version. While I didn’t tune into the pre/post this season, it’s a must have when the Cubs are competitive and every game counts.

  • kgd

    Personally I’m hoping for them to make whatever deal brings the team the most money. Between MLB Game Day Mini in the corner of my screen at work and MLB.TV at home, I was actually able to cancel my cable service since I no longer needed it to watch Cubs games.

    • Derrek

      That’s cool and all but a good portion of baseball fans do not subscribe to those services. It would be a huge blow to Cubs fans who do not live in the Chicago area. I guess this would just increase the amount of MLB subscribers.

  • Beer Baron

    I certainly wouldn’t be as loyal of a Cubs fan without WGN. I grew up in Kenosha which is approx half way between Chicago and Milwaukee, and we got TV stations from both markets. I didn’t become a Brewer fan or White Sox fan because their games weren’t on TV, but everyone of the Cubs games was on – and were all day games – so during the summer that is what I did. But those nostalgic days are long gone. Today every team shows every one of their games locally, and nationally there are games on ESPN, TBS, MLB or Fox so people won’t gravitate toward the Cubs as being the only thing. I don’t think even if they kept all games on WGN you’d have another generation of Cub fans quite like this.

    So the Cubs need to do what makes them most competitive – the fans be damned – and that probably means starting their own network. Besides, nationally out of market games are more and more accessible and I suspect soon the prices will become more and more reasonable – might even see an ala carte option where you just pay for the game or team you want rather than subscribe to the entire MLB package.

  • Derrek

    I live in Chicago so I would have been exposed to the Cubs with or without WGN.

    WGN rules though. I love their news and the quirky shows and specials they put out about Chicago. WGN’s claim-to-fame was the Cubs and vice versa.

    In my opinion, cutting the cord between the Cubs and WGN is just as blasphemous as say, putting in a jumbo-tron and scrapping the old center field scoreboard. As fans of a team with that prides itself on tradition, these things are a big deal. I hate blowing things out of proportion and god knows we will all live if the Cubs do not continue to air on WGN but man, would it sting.

  • Andrew

    I’m from North Carolina and have been watching the Cubs since the mid 80’s all thanks to WGN. I can get the cheapest cable package here and still get WGN before I get ESPN and other big channels like that. It would be sad to see WGN not broadcast games anymore, however with the MLB Pass, its easy to watch almost all the game anyways.

  • cubs1967

    WOW—a Cubs network I would be for; but not to leave WGN. I grew up watching them in late afternoons after school as did generations in Chicagoland and elsewhere. Lose that national fan base(2nd highest road attendance for 2nd worst team in 2012) and you are gonna lose generations of fans forever.

  • http://ehanauer.com clark addison

    I live in San Diego, and have watched the Cubs on TV since the 1980s, when local cable started carrying WGN. But that was then, and this is now. The Cubs’ TV deal was made when they were owned by the Trib, and is a sweetheart deal for the station. Even the Padres have a ton of money coming in for TV rights. So I’m for whatever it takes for the Cubs to stay competitive. With radio broadcasts always available on the MLB app, and TV on mlb.com, I’ll be willing to pay that price when they become more interesting and competitive.

  • Jay

    If not for WGN, I would probably be a White SUX fan. Thank God that never happened. I do not care much for trailer homes, mullets and overalls. May WGN continue to brees more Southside CUBS fans

  • http://www.viewfromthebleachers.com Norm

    Yay for WGN’s history with the Cubs, but I couldn’t care less about what network they play today’s games on. Whatever brings in the revenue.

  • willis

    Yeah not having them on WGN would be a tough pill. I spent my summers in Mississippi watching them religiously. Who knows if I’d still be a fan without WGN’s influence, but it definitely made my days to take in Cubs games.

  • Chad

    In my part of the Country…if a person has no logical ties to a team they either become a Cubs fan or a Braves fan. Those two teams played the only baseball on television for most of my years “growing up”. The death of the WGN relationship would be somewhat upsetting because of that….but I catch all the games via MLB.TV now-a-days anyway.

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