Convention Info Dump: The Future of Cubs Broadcasting Rights

kid-watching-tv[The second of four Convention Info Dump pieces today. Earlier, I discussed the fundamental spending question.]

Apropos of the earlier financial discussion – and, in some ways, superseding it – the Cubs’ future broadcasting rights were among the most important topics addressed this weekend. As I wrote last week, the television landscape is changing in a way that makes the Cubs’ efforts to secure a big-money, long-term television rights contract a matter of both preeminent importance and serious urgency. The Cubs’ TV rights deal with WGN – for about 70 of their 162 games – expires after 2014, and the Cubs’ TV rights deal with CSN – for the remaining games – expires after 2019. Rumors flew last week about the Cubs inking a new deal with a suitor like FOX, who could have an interest in locking in the Cubs’ long-term rights as soon as possible (even if the full slate won’t kick in for them until 2020). That kind of mega deal would fundamentally change the way we view the Cubs’ financial situation, partially neutering any spending concerns fans might have going forward.*

*(Well, that is to say, if the Cubs land a deal that pays them, long-term, $150 to $200 million per season for their TV rights (those numbers are entirely hypothetical), there should never again be a question about the organization’s ability to spend at least up to the luxury tax cap if the players are there that they want.)

Where do things stand on that front?

  • At the owners panel, Tom Ricketts mentioned that the Cubs have “old” TV contracts, which put them at a disadvantage compared to teams that have recently inked new deals. It’s no secret that the big money TV deals are driving much of the spending in baseball – the teams that have the big new deals are spending huge. The teams that don’t, aren’t.
  • Ricketts praised WGN TV as a long-time partner of the team, but said there are shifting dynamics in the TV market. Todd Ricketts interjected that WGN is changing, too (presumably an allusion to their increased focus on national programming), and it felt like the groundwork was being laid for the Cubs to depart WGN TV, and for the fans to come to terms with and accept it. To be clear: this is merely how I perceived their responses. Strictly speaking, all that was said was that the WGN TV deal was up after this year, the Cubs have loved their time with WGN, things are being negotiated, and we’ll see what happens.
  • At the business panel, business president Crane Kenney also discussed the TV contracts as being outdated in today’s market. While he did not go into specifics on possible future partners, Kenney did leave open the possibility that WGN TV could stay in the fold after 2014 with a smaller package of games. I presume that those kinds of discussions are ongoing. Keep in mind: even if the Cubs landed a mega deal with FOX for the WGN games from 2015 through 2019 (and then the full slate thereafter), FOX might not be able to broadcast all of the Cubs’ games because of programming conflicts. Maybe there’s a way, then, to keep WGN in the fold as a kind of offloading channel? I can immediately see scheduling problems with that, though (not the least of which is to mention that WGN, itself, is trying to enter the original content market more aggressively at the national level). So, who knows. The point is: Kenney left open the possibility of some games staying on WGN.
  • The radio piece of the broadcasting rights pie is, in terms of dollars, much smaller, but still deserves a note here: Kenney said that the Cubs have always appreciated their partnership with WGN Radio, and negotiations on that front are ongoing. He said that there would probably be something to announce by Opening Day. That doesn’t necessarily mean the Cubs are sticking with WGN Radio, but I did get a much more positive sense that the relationship with WGN Radio would continue, as opposed to WGN TV.
  • On the balance, the TV question was actually relatively little discussed at the Convention, especially when you consider how important it is. My guess is that, because negotiations are ongoing – and perhaps advanced – no one was going to say anything to gum anything up. So it was mostly avoided as a subject.

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

27 responses to “Convention Info Dump: The Future of Cubs Broadcasting Rights”

  1. VittersStartingLF

    If they are on Fox, are you talking about Ch. 32 or a Fox Sports channel?

    1. mr. mac

      I am fairly certain that they cannot be on another cable network while still on CSN. I could be remembering that incorrectly, though.

    2. BenRoethig

      It would have to be on channel 32 (or their sister station 50). CSN has exclusive Cable rights until 2019. Of course, both stations are Fox corporate owned and could shop the games to Fox and MyNetworkTV affiliates in the blackout area of Illinois, Iowa, and Indiana.

  2. Demarrer

    Also important, the Cubs said that Pat Hughes will be coming with them regardless of what radio station they are on.

  3. Cubs49

    Living outside the Chicagoland viewing area I would have no problem paying a subscription fee to watch Cubs baseball. The sooner the better IMO. Goodbye WGN TV and rest in piece,as your superstation designation falls by the wayside.

  4. Austin

    Yea I’m hoping who ever is chosen for the games it’s not CSN. I hate that any game on CSN I can’t watch over in southwest Michigan. I wish MLB would be rid of their awful blackout restrictions but of course that will never happen.

  5. itzscott

    Does anyone know the advantages to the Cubs of dividing up Cub broadcasts among multiple networks (WGN, CSN, FOX, WCIU, etc)?

    Seems like an odd strategy that I don’t think any other organization uses and wouldn’t be ideal for any network either in that it’s virtually impossible for them to generate a consistent audience or be identified with the Cubs….. as WGN has been for ages.

  6. dmartini

    If they are on Fox/Fox 1/Fox Sports Channel does that mean they will be blacked-out on This is my only means of consistently watching the team in Ann Arbor.

  7. ChrisFChi

    They should leave wgn radio (locally) and work out a deal with WBBM. They have the Bears broadcast already, they broadcast on 780am and 105.9fm (locally). It would be nice to hear Pat call a game on crystal clear FM radio.

    1. Jon

      WBBM is affiliated with CBS radio which also owns 670 (does Sox games) so I’m not sure if that would be allowed.

    2. D.G.Lang

      WGN is a very high power station with a very large listening area which even on some nights can reach Cuba. Cuba specifically runs another high power radio station on the same frequency just to prevent their own people from hearing WGN.

      FM radio stations while much clearer simply don’t have the broadcast range as an AM radio station which would reduce the listening area and therefore the potential number of Cubs fans able to listen to the games.

      I remember many nights when I was younger listening to WGN while I was on fishing trips to northern Wisconsin and Minnesota. I also listened to the Cubs games when I was in the Army stationed at Ft Benjamin Harrison (Uncle Bennies Rest Home) in Indiana.

      Broadcast range is important to reach larger listening audiences and therefore derive greater advertising dollars.

      1. Rebuilding

        Yep, on a really good night you can pick up WGN in the panhandle of Texas. One of the reasons the Cardinals have so many fans is that KMOX can be heard all of the way to Denver

  8. drcub1908

    How about we sync up the radio and tv broadcasts so that I can listen to Pat and watch the game…

    Pat is really the best…

    I could see Friday late afternoon game on WGN…

  9. blublud

    Brett, am I right that a team can sell all 162 games for TV rights and not just the home games? I think I know the answer, but I’m just checking.

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