Is the Cubs-WGN Relationship at a Close? And Other Bullets

cubs broadcast boothMercy, the roads were horrible this morning. When I’m sliding around in a big SUV (‘Merica!), I can only imagine what it’s like for that rear-wheel drive Mustang in front of me. Except I don’t have to imagine it, I have to drive behind it: a car so very not intended for Midwest winters, sliding completely to the left and right at anything over 2 mph. My 10 minute trip to take the kiddos to school took me 30.

  • Media maven Robert Feder writes about the Chicago media stories heading in 2014, and he suggests that the expectation is now that the Cubs and WGN – both TV and radio – will end their relationship after this year. Recall, the Cubs’ broadcast deal with WGN TV is due to end after 2014 (after the Cubs opted out of their deal), and the Cubs’ broadcast deal with WGN Radio is due to end after 2014 (after WGN Radio opted out of their deal). In theory, negotiations are ongoing about preserving those relationships – the TV deal is the big one, and the Cubs will need to find a broadcast partner for the WGN portion of their games from at least 2015 until 2019, when their deal with CSN ends and the full slate of games becomes available.
  • Are those negotiations actually done? While that was always a possibility, I’d be surprised if Feder was reporting such a big deal in a small, single line among many, many others: “With unprofitable deals up at the end of the 2014 season, both WGN-Channel 9 and WGN AM 720 will part company with the Chicago Cubs, ending the team’s 88-year relationship with Tribune Co.” That’s all Feder says on the subject. It reads like a prediction, but the other items in his piece are all things that are definitely going to happen. So … I guess we’ll see.
  • The wild card in all of this, for me, has always been the WGN-9 (local) and WGN-America (national) dichotomy of WGN. Locally, of course they want to retain Cubs games. But as the Tribune Company seeks to make WGN-America into more of a national, TBS-like, self-produced programming type station, the constant prime-time interruption of Cubs games could be an issue – especially when those games’ ratings, while strong in Chicago, might not be particularly strong in, say, Columbus, Ohio, when compared to much cheaper ‘How I Met Your Mother’ reruns. (In other words, the Cubs could be pushing WGN for more dollars at the very time when WGN is wondering whether they want Cubs games at all. Throw in the whispers of the Cubs’ inability to market their WGN games to any other cable station while the CSN deal is in place (through 2019), and you might have a very limited market for those WGN games from 2015 to 2019.)
  • Tony Andracki with 14 questions facing the Cubs in 2014. I’d say he’s got most of them, though I’d add the TV question implied by that previous Bullet, and when the Cubs will be major players in free agency again.
  • One of those questions is about whether Anthony Rizzo can bounce back from a down 2013 (I’d say that all indicators are that, with expected positive regression, he will “bounce back” in 2014 and be pretty darn good). Carrie Muskat talks to Rizzo on a wide range of topics, including that 2013 season. It’s a great read for Rizzo’s thoughts on new manager Rick Renteria, old manager Dale Sveum, how Rizzo is approaching the offseason, and what he sees ahead for himself and the Cubs.
  • If you weren’t around over the last couple of days due to the holiday, note that the commenting changes have occurred. You now have to be registered/logged in to comment. Explanation here. FAQ on commenting here. Read that second one before freaking out that something isn’t working.

Brett Taylor is the editor and lead writer at Bleacher Nation, and can also be found as Bleacher Nation on Twitter and on Facebook.

79 responses to “Is the Cubs-WGN Relationship at a Close? And Other Bullets”

  1. Norm

    Rizzo will be around 270/350/480, 25-30 HR’s.

  2. Kyle

    That strikes me as a negotiation leak by WGN. But the fact that it would leave the Cubs over such a barrel if true does not bode well for leverage.

  3. Ballgame17

    Watching Rizzo every home game, I feel like he has the approach/swing already that will allow him to be a successful major leaguer. I’m not a scout by any means, but he has a very fluent swing and he seems to have a good eye although he has to lay off inside off-speed pitch. I think fair lines for expectations this year are .290/.380/.490 25-30 HR/100+ RBI. I really like Rizzo’s potential and have faith he’ll turn it around this year. I’m really hoping the year brings Baez/Bryant up and we can have a lineup along these lines…

    Lake
    Castro
    Bryant
    Rizzo
    Baez (2B)
    Olt
    Schierholtz
    Castillo

    **This is feasible with what the Cubs alrady have and if they can somehow add Kemp, then just imagine…bullpen looks solid, if we add Tanaka then rotation looks pretty darn good. I think soon enough, we’ll all see the benefit of building the organization this way.

    1. CubFan Paul

      “although he has to lay off inside off-speed pitch”

      Or hammer it towards right field.

      What do they call it, selectively aggressive? Patiently aggressive? ..Cubs Way

  4. NorthSideIrish

    John Sickels released his preliminary list of 40 names for the Cubs Top Prospect rankings…only real surprise to me was that he’s got Underwood on the bubble for the list. I’ve got a higher opinion of him than most, but I thought he was pretty solidly in the Top 20.

    http://www.minorleagueball.com/2014/1/2/5265060/chicago-cubs-preliminary-prospect-list

    1. Norm

      eh, he’s supposedly got the stuff, but it hasn’t translated yet.

  5. Cubbies4Life

    I’m upset by this WGN thing. I watch just about every game on WGN or CSN. I sure don’t want to have to subscribe to the expensive MLB channels. I just might have to quit my job and move to Chicago and attend every game in person and… no… FIRST I have to win the lottery… obviously. Also, I spoke to my Rizzo bobblehead this morning and he assures me he’s gonna kick ass this season! AN-THO-NEEEE!!!!

  6. NorthSideIrish

    Ty Youngfelt ‏@TyYoungfelt 6h
    Cubs, Royals discussed Starlin Castro at Winter Meetings; Predictably, asking price was ‘really f–king outlandish’…

    At least the FO is consistent in their trade demands…but in this case they probably should be.

  7. Voice of Reason

    The Cubs are in quite a predicament with this WGN TV situation.

    WGN, along with Wrigley Field, helped build this franchise to the monster it is (though there are some small holes in the boat recently).

    By not having games on The Superstation anymore, the Cubs are losing a very valuable marketing tool that sent many fans from across the country to Wrigley Field. People from California to Georgia would turn on those afternoon Cub games in bars and in their homes. By losing that tool, will they start to lose that across the country fan base that they have had?

    However, by turning it’s back on WGN, the organization can then receive more money from a new television deal. But, IN THE LONG RUN, will it really be more money or will the erosion of that across the country fan base hurt the franchise financially in the long run?

    That’s something ownership needs to determine. All I can say is proceed carefully!

    1. Scotti

      The best thing the Cubs can do to grow their national and international fanbase is to win. More money, spent well now, will do that.

      1. DarthHater

        I agree. I also have always been sympathetic to VOR’s concern about WGN & a national fanbase, but I tend to think that the advantage to be gained from being on a superstation is going to decrease more and more in the future as the interwebs make most games readily available everywhere.

        1. Scotti

          And the kids that grew up watching those WGN games are now doing other things (in the 80′s-90′s there weren’t too many options for latchkey kids. Now? Lots of competition). Kind of going the way of listening to games on the radio. That’s how you did it in the 40′s and 50′s.

          1. DarthHater

            I was a latchkey kid in the 60s. I guess I could have listened to games on the radio, but my friends and I seemed to find it more fun to go to the corner lot and pretend to be Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Fergie, etc.

            1. ssckelley

              damn darth, you are an old fart

              :D

          2. ssckelley

            You are probably right, I cannot see to many kids rushing home to turn on WGN to watch the end of a Cubs game like I did when I was a kid growing up in the 80s. Kids today are getting what they want when they want it and it will become more and more like this as technology keeps advancing.

          3. CubFan Paul

            “And the kids that grew up watching those WGN games are now *coming home to watch the game DVR’d”

            1. Scotti

              Live sports rarely get DVR’d. I do it all of the time but that’s not typical. The reason LA, HOU, TEX and, hopefully, the Cubs are signing long term, BIG TIME deals is because people, by and large, do NOT watch their live sports DVR’d and companies know that their ads will actually be w a t c h e d (and thus all of the money being spent).

              1. CubFan Paul

                “Live sports rarely get DVR’d”

                False. No one watches anything live unless they’re being paid to or have a ticket.

                It’s 2014 pal.

                1. cub-hub

                  I actually agree with Scotti here. Only thing that gets DVR’d in my house is Housewives of Atlanta, Mob Wives, Housewives of New Jersey and Bad Girls Club. If I can’t watch it at home live, im watching it on my tablet, phone or keeping up with it by checking the score.

                  1. CubFan Paul

                    So you’re the One who watches all that crap reality tv.

                    Not sure why that matters here.

                    1. cub-hub

                      Not me, the wife.

          4. Voice of Reason

            Scotti,

            If nobody watched the games on television anymore then why are all these other teams signing big television contracts? Why do the cubs want to move away from wgn so they can make more money with a new deal?

            Your argument that nobody watches games on television anymore is totally contradicted by all these multi million dollar deals.

            1. Pat

              If televising the games is making so much money, why is WGN claiming they are losing money on the current deal, which is much smaller to begin with.

              Just because people are paying stupid money for something doesn’t mean it’s profitable. I’m not saying it’s the equivilant of tulips or paying thousands for a Beanie Baby, but Quaker paid close to a couple of billion for Snapple, so stupid corporate deals aren’t without precedent.

              If the rumors that the Cubs can’t sign with a cable provider until 2019 are true, I really wouldn’t be surprised if the new deal pays less than the expiring WGN deal. It doesn’t really leave them many options.

              1. Scotti

                Pat, these media companies are looking out 10-20 years and seeing a time when people, even more so than today, select their programming by recording it and flipping through the commercials. But live sports are watched live for the most part. They are also watched in groups. That makes ads sold for live sports (like ther Cubs) very, very valuable. And even more valuable as you get better and better DVR’s (technology).

                1. Pat

                  No question about the motives for the deals. But will that be the reality? Just because you can reach the most people through live sports doesn’t make it the default best use of money for advertisers.

                  Right now, marketing departments are completely confused on the best way to go forward. The internet has changed the game completely and people haven’t really caught up yet. But the other thing the internet has done is make it easier to collect information. How many times have you been asked to answer the “how did you hear about us” question? People are keeping track of ROI on advertising to a degree that just wasn’t possible before and TV can’t just assume that because they are the best option as far as views (and faith put in those views) that they can charge whatever they want.

                  There’s a reason that people are already referring to the “TV Bubble”. It’s because many people who understand the industry better than I do feel it isn’t sustainable.

                  1. Scotti

                    It’s only big money because these are 20-25 year deals. These companies lose on the front end and win on the back end (inflation). These are long term investments in infrastructure for these media companies similar to a team investing in a new park. Pay a billion dollars for a new park and you lose now but win down the road.

              2. BWA

                I’m pretty sure they are only complaining about losing on the radio deal, not the TV deal. The current TV deal is a bargain for them.

            2. Scotti

              Who said no one watches games on TV any more??? I said that kids (who used to watch when they got home) are now busy with other things (video games, social media, etc.). Those 80′s kids who grew up watching the Cubs are still fans (the Cubs tremendous fan base is proof of that). But THEIR kids are more likely to be playing a baseball video game than watching a baseball game. (FWIW, latchkey kids were never an important demographic for ad buys).

              I also explained why the media companies LOVE spending BIG coin on live sports. It has nothing to do with the 10-y/o latchkey kid coming home after school. It also has nothing to do with people DVRing live sports. It has everything to do with live sports being the lone arena where folks turn it on and watch it straight through (no skipping through ad buys), AND, often in groups (!). That has humongous value to advertisers.

              People aren’t watching more sports–they are just watching the ads unlike sitcoms, etc.

              1. CubFan Paul

                “live sports being the lone arena where folks turn it on and watch it straight through (no skipping through ad buys)”

                Scotti YOU are the ONLY One who doesn’t use a DVR.

                People/Homes DVR games the MOST because they are longer than sitcoms & you can shorten the broadcast waiting 30mins-1hour and fast forwarding through commercials.

                ONLY OLD PEOPLE HATE DVRS (Scotti).

                1. MichiganGoat

                  Agreed I’m not exactly “young” and when I had a DVR we recorded EVERYTHING I never watched anything live expect for the biggest games. Now that I’ve “cut the cords” and don’t have cable anything I watch is “on demand” and is mainly commercial free. As for baseball MLB.tv has no commercials and works like a DVR. So I would imagine anybody under 30 is rarely watching anything live except for the biggest games and if you’re not in a black hole of blackouts and love baseball your watching a majority of games on MLB.tv and there are no commercials there anyway.

                  1. Katie

                    I still watch games live. How else would I hear the dulcet tones of the Empire Flooring jingle?

                    1. CubFan Paul

                      Wait!? Empire isn’t local?

                      …I recently found out Bob Rohrman isn’t either.

                  2. CubFan Paul

                    “I never watched anything live expect for the biggest games..anybody under 30 is rarely watching anything live except for the biggest games”

                    There’s football on Sundays, Monday, Tuesdays, Thursdays & Saturdays. There’s baseball 7 days a week.

                    Its too much to watch live nowadays, a DVR is mandatory if you actually want to watch it all (I do (I have two TVs & DVRs in my living room just because one DVR isn’t enough))

                    No one watches anything live anymore, unless its the SuperBowl where the Ads are a show amongst themselves.

                    1. cub-hub

                      I must be old fashioned. I will stay home just to watch a Cubs game live. Once a live game passes, I don’t like to go back and watch it. At that point, I already know the outcome, and once I know the outcome, what’s the point in watching it.

                    2. CubFan Paul

                      “but to say that no one watching baseball games live is really, really overstating your point”

                      In general and compared to pre-DVR days, “no one is watching live anymore” because of the commercials (thank you TIVO).

                      “Good teams still draw huge live ratings”

                      Good Teams? …and those ratings probably include DVRing viewers.

                    3. cub-hub

                      I think a cable outlet in Tennessee(Xfinity I think) and Im sure the others will soon follow, will not allow you to fast foward on demand or DVR’d items with commercials in them. They networks are not providing you entertainment for free, and these items are costing them money. Enjoy fast forwarding through commercials while it last.

  8. ari gold

    I might have you beat Brett. My normally 1 and 45 minute trip from Vail to Denver took 6 hours yesterday. Lots of head banging against the steering wheel.

    1. Norm

      You drove 6 hours to buy legal weed???
      I kid…

      1. ari gold

        If I used weed, it would have made the drive go by faster haha.

    2. Cizzle

      The problem was that you were in Vail…and Vail Sucks.

  9. bushybrows74

    Brett,

    Thanks for posting. Am I overstating that this is the most important story of 2014? I mean who cares if Darwin Barney bounces back if the TV deal results in $20 million less per year in rev.

  10. Fastball

    I don’t understand why FOX Sports doesn’t come in and buy out the remaining years on the Comcast contract. Say goodbye to WGN and Comcast and be done with it. Other option is structure a new deal with Comcast making all games co-terminous in 4 years. If there is another network with the $$ to do a deal of this magnitude then get them to the table as well. I don’t see any option left for doing business with WGN for TV or Radio. It’s been a nice run but all things come to and end. I already have to pay MLB for the Cubs games not on WGN. So it makes no difference to me. I am paying already. Just get better announcers to listen too for gods sake. I used to go out an listen to XM in the car so I didn’t have to hear the TV broadcasters.

  11. notcubbiewubbie

    totally agree the upside to this might be bye bye lenny the nerd!! when u listen to other teams on the directv package the cubs broadcast sounds like a bad sitcom not professional baseball.

    1. Chiburgh

      I agree. With bad baseball and bad announcing, it’s hard to endure every game. I’m hoping with the excitement of baseball returning to the Northside in a year or so, the announcing will also improve. The sooner the better.

  12. Sacko

    WGN , afternoons games, and Harry Carey catching a Budweiser in a fish net in the early 80′s is how I got hooked. Never really liking BB before that, I’ve been to Wrigley several times from ND.

    Anyone know if Vitters and Jackson did anything over the winter? Since they didn’t play much during the season.

  13. Fastball

    I think we have to consider that Baez is anything but a polished shortstop defensively. 42 errors last season. If Castro made 42 errors he would be run out of Chicago by the boo birds. We have to hope that Baez shows marked improvement defensively this season defensively. Otherwise you can’t move Castro off shortstop. It takes a lot of time for a kid to come into his own at shortstop. Do Cubs fans have the patience to live with something worse than Castro? I’m not so sure about that. Baez could turn into the greatest shortstop we have ever had. Unless he improves dramatically I don’t see the FO being able to live with more errors at this position. Both Castro and Baez can make the spectacular plays but the routine ones are the killers that turn 1-2-3 innings into runs for the opposition. Our pitching got into long innings having to overcome this. I think our defense last season was a positive for the most part. The Cubbies can’t score enough runs as it is. I have no problem with either Castro or Baez at shortstop if we get better at the position defensively. I could see a Castro trade next off season if Baez demonstrates he is superior this year at AAA. Til then the bigger issue is whether Barney improves his offense at 2b. I think he will and then be traded at the deadline. It would be nice if we could trade him and get something of value at the ML level. Any prospect type trade wouldn’t bring the value we need. I would love to package him along with some prospects for Gardner who would be a significant upgrade in CF and a real lead off hitter which is something we are far from having at this point.

    1. CubFan Paul

      “Baez is anything but a polished shortstop defensively. 42 errors last season.”

      He’ll probably never be, but EVERYONE has lots of errors in the minors (bad fields (mostly), level of competition, etc)

      1. DocPeterWimsey

        The bigger issue is what kind of range Baez has. Booted balls on “routine” grounders are memorable, but the grounders that are constantly 2 feet out of reach add up to much more damage over a season.

  14. Fastball

    I am not sure if Jackson or Vitters played any WB this off season. I think they told Vitters to go home and work his tail off. Hopefully Jackson is doing the same. It would be just awesome if Jackson went off and learned how to hit. Maybe he found a real hitting coach who was able to help him. Or he got Louisville Slugger to stop providing him with bats that have a big hole in the barrel or he got some Lasik surgery on his eyes so he can actually keep his eye on the ball. Vitters needed to take a ton of groundballs at 1b and in work his tail off practicing in RF so he can platoon there.

    1. Ivy Walls

      hard to change eyesight and pitch recognition at a tenth of a second. Pitch recognition is a talent that separates the MLB players from the masses.

      Vitters might become a nice utility player. If Rizzo can’t find a way to hit .750 OPS or above against LHP’ers than if Vitters can make the big league club as a OF/1B/3B bench player who can pinch hit it might be something.

      Pending any unexpected trade
      OF probables; Lake-Sweeney-Schierholtz
      IF probables; Murphy-Castro-Valbuena-Rizzo-
      C Castillo Kottaras

      Bench: OF Ruggiano
      IF: Barney

      That is eleven out of thirteen, leaving two (and possibly three spots because of April pitching needs of eleven),

      Let us hope/say Olt makes the team and starts at 3B moving Murphy to the bench as a utility player, (that could allow the Cubs to confidently trade Barney)

      Then there are 11 or 12 (depending on Barney’s situation or the rumored trade of Olt) on the roster, a 12-13th player who can play both IF/OF would round out the roster, while leaving room for a ST waiver pickup.

      1. CubFan Paul

        “or the rumored trade of Olt”

        Huh??

  15. Ivy Walls

    Brett, Big, heavy SUV’s even with 4 -wheel drive slip and slide like any other moving vehicle, all 4 wheel does is allow you to get going and provide you a false sense of security. Actually lower profile, lighter vehicles are far better for snow/ice travel, either front wheel or AWD, known as physics.

    You are fighting momentum brought on by weight and the fact that four wheel does little when quickly decelerating without the normal friction of the road.

    We learned this in WI and now CO, and found that Volvo AWD and Suburu AWD’s are the best in most winter driving. One story of truth, just before X-Mas in 2000 we drove from SW WI to CO following a winter storm that ravaged IA, Western IL where we counted over 160 disabled, abandoned autos that had spun out on the Interstate. Many after the storm in high winds with temps below zero and chills 30 below. Most were large US made SUV’s and 4-wheel pick ups, our Volvo all wheel station wagon stayed steady on the black ice and snow covered highway.

  16. Sacko

    Why was Jackson consider a high prospect at one time? Did he ever hit? Or was it that he did everything else so well and everyone hoped he would hit eventually?

  17. shlenny

    TV is dead. NETFLIX or something like it would be the way to go.

    1. Revery

      100% agree. The only reason I have satellite is to get Cubs game. I am dying for MLB to revise the blackout restrictions for MLB.TV. The second they do, I am cutting the cord.

  18. NorthSideIrish

    Dan Szymborski has an article on ESPN Insider about best fits for Tanaka. He does list the Cubs, which is encouraging…but he starts their write up with “Don’t laugh. Well, too much.”, which is less encouraging.

    http://insider.espn.go.com/mlb/hotstove13/story/_/id/10231166/seattle-mariners-new-york-yankees-need-masahiro-tanaka-most-mlb

  19. jmc

    forget watching the cubs on tv follow them here on Bleacher nation. Saves wear and tear on your television set because you won’t throw things at it. Lol

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