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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.

  • hogie

    I pay thirteen dollars for my cable. The last channel on the basic cable package is WGN and it is the only reason I even have cable. I can’t afford to get any better package and live in northern WI, so it is the only way I have to watch games. WGN is the reason that such a team that has been bad for so long, has such a wide ranging fan base. The writing has been on the wall for a while now, and it will lead to more revenue, which will lead to a better team, but it is a sad thing to hear.

    • Noah

      Do you have high speed internet? I know that may not be available depending on how far up north you are in Wisconsin. But if the reason you have basic cable is for Cubs games, and you have high speed internet, you could cancel your basic cable and get standard MLB.tv for $109.99 a year, or the premium version for $129.99 per year. While you’re really only getting service on those for 6 months, if you prorate the cost over 2 you’re looking at between $9 and $11 per month.

      • hogie

        WGN is the only reason I watch TV, but my boys love public television. Lord willing, I will be graduated by the time the contract is up and I can get both!

  • #1lahairfan

    I will miss the WGN radio broadcasts even more.

    • WGNstatic

      I wouldn’t bet on the Cubs having a new radio home. There is no reason that the Cubs couldn’t leave WGN-TV and maintain the relationship on the radio side. In fact, on that side, the Cubs are incredibly valuable to WGN radio.

      • Noah

        And I somehow doubt that there’s been quite the explosion in radio money as TV money. I agree, the radio equation makes a lot more sense for all involved than the TV one does. The TV made sense for WGN when they could get a bargain on the deal. When they can’t? It probably makes more sense for WGN to show more episodes of Maury Povich.

        Just remember, you are NOT the father.

      • hansman1982

        Yup, heck, WGN Radio is the reason I am a Cubs fan as with much of rural Iowa. Even today I will only watch 5-6 games on TV a year (would be double that number, if not for the dumb-ass stoopid Iowa-ist blackout rules) but I listen to at least a portion of every game on the radio side.

        Man, Pat and Ron were a thing of beauty.

    • Smitty

      That is what I am worried about. I hope they let WGN keep the broadcasts. or at least keep Pat Hughes around.

  • Die hard

    Look for Comcast to demand comprehensive deal that may include a piece of everything

  • JR

    I’m a little confused about this TV deal thing. WGN really doesn’t have many games at all compared to CSN right? And if all these TV companies are having to pay teams astronomical amounts for their business why would CSN opt out of their sweet deal they have thru 2019? Seems to me the Cubs are kind of screwed with their TV situation right now…

  • scorecardpaul

    Would the Cubs be able to do something like a Cub network? I’m thinking something like the Yankees do. What is the Yes channel? I never watch it, and I don’t know who owns it, but is that something to think about?

  • MJ

    Maybe WGN could make a strong bid and televise all the games during the summer on WGN America, rather than just locally. There’s a lot more money to be made that way, instead of running summer reruns of whatever 10 vampire soap operas they’ve got now.

    • hansman1982

      It also costs A LOT of money to televise the games. Especially considering a lot of the viewers get blacked out of games. The Vampire Soaps re-runs are cheap.

  • JoeyCollins

    I think a lot of people are underestimating the value of the Cubs owning 20% of Comcast. I continue to believe the best deal for the cubs is splitting CSN into two channels where the cubs share a network with the Blackhawks. A 40% share in that network would probably be very valuable. The hawks keep setting ratings records, and would make the network viable year round.

  • Austin

    I hope they stay with WGN or at least not go all in on CSN. I live right around the bend in Michigan and I can’t watch a single Cubs game on CSN (Yet I can watch the Bulls).

    • Craig

      That is funny. In Southern Wisconsin where I live, I get all the Cub and Hawk games on CSN, but they black out the Bulls games.

  • 5412

    Hi,

    Don’t confuse the TV and radio broadcasting rights. While WGN-TV might lose the Cubs, I would be shocked if WGN radio would. If they did I am confident that whoever out bid them would pick up Pat Hughes contract.

    regards,
    5412

    • Pat

      I would Imagine they stay with WGN radio. The signal strength alone (which can reach several states away on a clear night) means more potential ears/ad dollars.

      TV is harder to say. What complicates it more is the Cubs looking to add more night games. For WGN, or any other station attempting more of a national broadcast, more night games means more games blacked out everywhere but Chicago, which limits the benefits or a potential national audience.

      • Rich H

        Yes WGN is a clear channel on the AM side and it gives them great range on clear night (same with the Cards old home KMOX, and Cincy’s station can’t remember the call sign for it though). That is how these central of the country teams got such a huge following in the 40′s, 50′s and 60′s. But times are changing and most of these pure sports stations are pulling out all of the stops to get a local product on the air. So it might be soon that WGN gets out on the radio side as well. Could you imagine ESPN Chicago getting the Cubs games? YUCK!

  • fester30

    Not sure if it has been mentioned yet, but despite the fact that Chicago is the #3 market (just below LA), I don’t think the Cubs can expect anywhere close to the TV package the Dodgers got. The Dodgers play most of their home games in prime time. Their road games typically start as people are getting off work. The Cubs play most of their games during the day when people are at work, which could lead to a smaller audience. The west coast games happen too late to catch the prime time audience. While the Cubs should get a significant increase in revenue, I don’t see it being anywhere near the Dodgers’ neighborhood.

    • MJ

      This is one of the reasons why they’re asking for more night games at Wrigley. They have to have that assurance, then they can command a bigger rights fee. If the Padres got over a billion in their TV deal, the Cubs can certainly do better than that.

  • WGNFAN

    Im a Cubs fan for 2 things: afternoon baseball and WGN. I grew up in Puerto Rico, when I would get home from school when i was younger the Cubs would be on WGN.
    About 4 years ago the cable company took WGN out for a novelas channel and I was so mad.

    Its just the times, I think that WGN will become less prominent in the future, so the cubs need to move on.

  • Patrick

    Cubs have and will have plenty of capital regardless!! Yes it would be more… Cubs recently had huge payrolls…how did that work out?? Cubs loss wgn they will lose the most important asset-fans… Again spending and having lots of cash doesn’t = WS rings. Do the right thing FO

  • Muck

    This is good and bad for me. I live in Wisconsin so I don’t get CSN so I gotta rely on WGN for my games but idk if it gets us a bunch of money oh well

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  • J.T.

    My solution: Air Cubs locally on their new super duper pay channel and air the games nationally on WGN-Amerika.

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