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cubs broadcast boothAlthough I am currently writing a lengthy piece on some of Chairman and Owner Tom Ricketts’ comments yesterday about the financial future of the Chicago Cubs – the Wrigley renovation, the TV deal, the team payroll, etc. – I felt compelled to note, specifically, his comments about the Cubs’ future on WGN-TV.

If you’ve been paying attention at all – which is to say, if you’ve been following the TV deal story around these parts – you know the following things: (1) local televisions rights contracts in baseball are exploding in value; (2) the Cubs currently have deals with CSN Chicago and WGN-TV for their broadcast rights, the latter of which (at least) is way, way under-market; (3) the Cubs’ deal with WGN-TV expires after 2014; and (4) the Cubs plan to shop those rights to get a deal closer to market value.

And if you synthesize those bits of information, you’re left with a pretty obvious conclusion: the Cubs are probably parting ways with WGN-TV after 2014. The Cubs will, of course, give WGN every opportunity to retain games given their long-standing relationship. But, given the fact that the Dodgers just got an average of $1.7 million per game in their new day (approximately $280 million per season for the next 25 years), and the fact that WGN currently pays the Cubs just a tiny fraction of that amount, I’m not optimistic that WGN will offer top dollar. (And, given changes in their strategic television plans upon the Tribune Company – WGN’s parent company – exiting bankruptcy, I’m not so sure that WGN is going to be all that troubled at the prospect of losing the Cubs. More about that in a subsequent piece.) If the Cubs can cash in on the television rights bubble before it bursts, they’ve got to do it.

That is all to say that, when Tom Ricketts said yesterday that the Cubs are going to explore their television rights options, and wouldn’t commit to a long-term future with WGN, it was hard to be surprised. In fact, he went further than I would have expected by addressing WGN, directly, and saying that the national following the station has helped develop will be “a factor” in their broadcast rights future.

Obviously, if WGN goes away, there will be a drop-off in new, national Chicago Cubs fans. Nobody likes that. Then again, that drop-off would be more than offset by the theoretical increase in dollars and competitiveness (a consistently good Cubs organization is going to generate more fans than a few low-rated national television broadcasts). Will the Cubs try to keep a handful of games on WGN for nostalgia and that national product? Maybe. But whoever comes in to bid on the Cubs’ rights is going to want as many games as possible – and they already won’t be able to get the half of the games that are currently promised to CSN through 2019, unless that agreement is restructured.

In other words, I don’t believe we’re going to be seeing the Cubs on WGN after 2014. Things can always change, but that’s the reality you should be bracing yourself for, if you weren’t already.

I am a Chicago Cubs fan because of WGN, and it would be sad to see them leave. But the (financial) times, they are a-changin’. To compete at the highest level, consistently, the Cubs have to consider their broadcast rights options with a much wider lens than they might have 20 years ago.

  • #1lahairfan

    Sad.

  • Jed

    It will be sad to see the Cubs not on WGN, but I think you are right in saying they will go where the money is. I shall forever remember the Cubs days on the “World’s Greatest News.”

  • http://www.worldseriesdreaming.com Rice Cube

    I’m sure cable packages that include the Cubs network and MLB.tv will make up for losing WGN if and when that happens.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      If the Cubs are great, maybe. But WGN is carried much more widely than any niche network or an online subscription environment (which carries all 30 teams, not just the Cubs). When it comes to cultivating *new* fans, losing WGN would cost the Cubs *new* (young) fans outside of the Chicago metro area.

      But, as I said, that can be remedied, in the long-term, with winning.

      • Jim

        That is assuming that another channel like WGN doesn’t pick up the games. Say, FX wins the bid for games not on CSN. This would then continue to give the Cubs a national exposure. Whoever gets it better be available on Directv!

        • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

          For reasons that I’ll be going into in a future piece, I very much don’t expect any national channels to pick up Cubs games. In short: the financial incentive isn’t there because there are more “How I Met Your Mother” viewers out there nationally than there are “Cubs Game” viewers.

          • Jim

            I can see a future where MLB solely owns and negotiates the rights with cable and Directv companies, and sells the packages for Internet viewing. That is partially in place now. I wouldn’t see that as a bad thing if I could buy the Cubs package and could watch the games on tv or online kind of like I do now with Netflix. The future is really more global than local. I mean how many of our generation even rely on a newspaper or the nightly news any more?

    • MichCubFan

      In my case, i get Comcast Sports Net on my DirecTV subscription, but the baseball games are blacked out.

      That means WGN is the only channel where I can watch Cubs games unless they are on FOX.

      I hope they stay with WGN. I miss the days where almost all the games were on WGN. That is where is started watching baseball and getting into the Cubs 20 years ago as a kid in Arizona. Who knows what team I would be a fan of without the Cubs being on WGN.

  • Brent

    I became a Cubs fan because of the games on WGN, too. I was going to rely on that to brainwash my sons. I don’t know what to do now.

    • Noah

      MLBtv

  • mrejr8234

    I want them to get the best deal possible, but I also think they should be open to giving WGN a discount based on the fact the pretty much every home in America with any type of cable gets it and they are part of the Cubs huge national following

  • Rcleven

    WGN made their decision years ago when they started dropping Cub games for their network programing. Why is everybody upset. This is only an extension of WGN moving away from the Cubs. It should be looked at as a Two way street.

  • Spriggs

    A Bob Dylan play — always a good way to end a report.

    • Danny Ballgame

      I enjoyed the Dylan reference myself

  • AP

    Enjoyed the Dylan reference. Also, whether intended or not, I enjoyed the Financial Times reference since the article is about WGN whose (inanimate antecedent alert) parent is the Tribune…

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Neither was a coincidence…

  • Fishin Phil

    Yes it is sad, but WGN is no longer what it used to be either.

    • Spriggs

      That’s for sure.

  • CubbieTim

    I grew up in south arkansas & I’m a Cubs fan bc of WGN. It was either them or the Braves on TBS. I was 10 in ’89 & we all know what they did that year. That was my 1st year as a Cubs fan. I’ve been a diehard ever since. I now live in St. Louis….. I know. I hate the smug fans here. I digress. I’m forever grateful for WGN. I’ve only been to Wrigley twice both as a kid. Now I’m 34 & dirt poor. I f’d up my life w/drinking & I don’t see me going to Wrigley any time soon. Hell I don’t even have cable. I keep up w/the Cubs now via the net. Every time I go any where here in stl I always have a Cubs hat or shirt just to stick to these smug stl fans. Anyway have a blessed day & a Baba Booey to u all

  • AP

    I should note that I enjoyed that just because they’re both newpapers, not because the Tribune and FT are tied in any way.

  • cjdubbya

    I particularly loved the asinine comment made on Twitter by a sports guy in my old hometown… “Ricketts may pull Cubs off WGN-TV after 2014, good luck finding bidders for rights with current product”

    Because the Cubs are going to lose 101 games a year ad infinitum.

    Nope, no money to be made broadcasting the Cubs long-term.

  • mrejr8234

    Saw the same tweet cjdubbya..that guy is clueless..

  • Matt

    I grew up in California watching Cubs games on WGN. I’ve known the end has been coming because unlike the good old days, there are hardly games on that network anymore. It’s forced my hand to purchase MLB.tv and stream games. I will miss WGN and seeing Cubs games on there, but if the Cubs can earn more money to help the product on field I’m all for that. At the end of the day I don’t care how I view my Cubs. I want a excitement and winning on the field.

    • Boogens

      Agree with you on that, Matt. I do like having the games on WGN. The “who is calling” the game is much more important to me than which network is showing the game. I’m very happy that we got Deshaies as the Brenly replacement. Some of the announcer fill-ins that have been used over the years have been lacking.

  • Noah

    I’m honestly not sure this is a big deal anymore. First, the Cubs’ big advantage in previously getting baseball fans on WGN (when it was a national, broadcast television station that played nearly every Cubs game nationally while other teams had no regular national television broadcast) is gone. While some of this has to do with the limited number of games WGN broadcasts, it more has to do with the internet and MLB.tv.

    It’s more sad in the way that, say, it would be sad if they got rid of the penny. From an economics perspective, the penny should clearly stop being produced with the idea of phasing them out entirely over 10 years or so. But people would be sentimental about it. This likely won’t effect new Cub fandom in any real way. To me, baseball fandom more than any sport is passed down from parent to child as opposed to where you great up. But as far as the Cubs are concerned, they’ll be much more successful getting new fans by being a great team and doing what they can do on the economic front to help that happen than they would be by broadcasting 40 or 50 games nationally through WGN.

  • http://ehanauer.com clark addison

    I signed up for the MLB tv package in 2008, but quickly realized that I could get about 85 games for free anyway between WGN and ESPN/Fox.

    Now I get the MLB app and listen to games on my iphone and iPad that aren’t on TV. If and when they go off WGN, MLB tv may be worth it, because the timing coincides with when they’ll be contenders.

  • hansman1982

    Step 1: Buy WGN
    Step 2: Buy every other tv network out there
    Step 3: Shut down every other tv network out there
    Step 4: Show nothing but the Cubs ALL the time
    Step 5: Profit!!!!

    • Danny Ballgame

      Collect underpants?

  • JB88

    Brett, someone commented in a thread last week that the Cubs wouldn’t be permitted to sell the rights to another cable station, based on their contract with CSN. Have you been able to track down anything confirming or denying that?

    Obviously, the implications are profound if such a provision exists in the Cubs’ deal with CSN.

  • BluBlud

    WGn is the only reason I am a Cubs fan. It will be sad to not have them on so I hope it doesn’t happen. But from the Business side of things, I can certainly understand why the move would be made.

    RIP Dr. Jerry Buss

  • Fastball

    One of the big players will come in and scoop up all the TV rights for the CUBs..
    Whomever it is will buy out Comcast’s other half of the contract. Cubs probably have some kind of early termination agreement in their deal and they play that card. If they didn’t negotiate an early termination agreement/clause with Comcast they aren’t very smart or weren’t very smart. Even if the don’t the future network will just buy out the contract. It will be a drop in the bucket to capture all of the Cubs game annually. I’m sure Ricketts has more than one network on his doorstep ready to go. It won’t be WGN and I predict Comcast either Ponies Up bigtime or when they see the big boys show up they take the money they are offered and get out of the way. Remember Ricketts owns part of Comcast so he has a say in how that goes down.

  • Ryan

    They can still get a regional deal with big bucks that also can be “national” on the right sports packages. My biggest beef with the Cubs from a TV standpoint is the way they hatched their current deal back in late 2000. I lived in DC metro for six years, and moved back to SW MI a few years ago. I can/could only watch their games via MLB.tv, ESPN or MLB Network or the sparse games on WGN. The WCIU and CSN games are not even broadcasted here in SW MI where there a ton of Cubs fans on the Western side of Michigan. CSN needs package the Cubs deal much like FOX does with most other teams, and has a large central market, and viewership is expanded via cable/dish sports packages. I have Comcast, and I can watch every Tigers game, and I mean literally 162 games every year. I live 300 miles from Detroit and 75 miles from Wrigley field. Doesn’t make much sense to have such a constricted market. I drive 20 miles into Indiana, Cubs are picked up on Comcast, Dish, etc.

  • Behind enemy lines (south side cub fan)

    Disappointing that the Cubs won’t be giving WGN a discount for loyalty ;-)

    • Boogens

      It’s hard not to consider the current deal a discount. It’s a huge discount. When is it supposed to end?

  • TSB

    The Tribune almost screwed up the Cubs, have screwed up my local paper (LA Times), and now are going to screw up the WGN relationship with the Cubs. Just what the hell is their problem?

  • Ivy Walls

    I saw this happening for some time and being outside of the Chicago market I am actually thankful that I can still get some games on GN, and ESPN through the season. I get both packages, radio and premium MLB which allows me to watch on the computer or through my son’s XBOX

  • Rich

    Yes I am with the group of being a Cubs fan as they were always on WGN. Got home from school and turned the away from the 3 stations of soaps and put on baseball. I remembwe when the Sox went to cable tv before everyone has cable. Made it difficult to watch them.

    So if no more WGN, will someone re-write the Go Cubs Go song?

    Catch them all on …………………..?

  • ruby2626

    2 questions, is what fastball said about Ricketts owning a part of Comcast true? If so what percentage and any idea what the impact would be?

    Does anyone have any idea if there is an outclause in the Comcast contract? Haven’t heard a word on that, maybe if there is one they are waiting until the WGN one expires before exercising it. Have to think that in any long term contract there is an outclause or at worst a clause to renegotiate if the market has changed. Personally I think the value of any potential new contract could get at least 20% more than the Dodgers. Would love to know Cub TV ratings vs. the Dodgers, even with crap teams I bet we crush them.

    • Rcleven

      The Cubs own approx of somewhere in the line of 25%(Trib kept approx 5% of the 25%). The largest owner is Reinsdorf groupe with White Sox/Bulls. Wirts (Blacks Hawks) a small percentage, NBC recently bought in too.

  • Vulcan

    I don’t like this. Sad…

  • Dan

    If the Cubs agree to let Comcast have the entire Cubs package couldn’t the Cubs tell Comcast that the need to void the contract they have with them? We’ll give you the entire Cubs package if you agree to take this deal as a whole type thing?

    • BluBlud

      This is what I feel the Cubs will try. This deal would be best for Ricketts as a businessman also. He get his full cut as Cubs owner and his 20%(I believe) cut as part Comcast Owner. Don’t know if he would, but that 20% coming back may be money he is willing to use on the Cubs also.

  • Jonathan

    Every day I would come he from school and watch the cubs on wgn when they were on. Now I don’t have cable because I cannot justify the cost but I do watch the games on mlb.tv. The costs of tv packages are unsustainable as more things are available reasonably online and with tv internet connected devices. WGN national will be a likely casualty without the cubs. The cubs need to cash in before the tv bubble breaks.

  • Cubz99

    I’ll admit that I am not in the know about TV contracts and broadcasting revenues, but why is it more likely that a local sports station like Comcast to own the rights, than a national cable station like WGN to purchase them. You would think that based on a national viewership WGN would have more viewers and therefore be able to pay a higher price to keep the games. Is it simply the fact that it is cheaper for them to run Matlock re-runs? Or does a Comcast, truly generate more revenue locally and therefore is more able to pay out a larger contract?

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