A Cubs/WGN-TV Tea Leaf? WGN-America Drops Local News

kid-watching-tvA little less than half of the Chicago Cubs’ TV broadcast rights are contractually obligated to WGN-TV for the 2014 season, and then they are opened up to the world (well, the non-cable-plus-CSN world, at least) for bidding.

While the Cubs and WGN have indicated a general willingness to preserve their relationship – and it remains conceivable, at least through 2019, when the full slate of Cubs games is available – I have long wondered whether WGN’s plans to expand its superstation, WGN America, would interfere with its interest in carrying Cubs games nationally. Consider that, while Cubs games do very well in Chicago, and there are certainly a smattering of Cubs fans across the country, WGN may believe that non-Cubs programming could do much better outside of Chicago (especially in primetime) than Cubs games. In other words, depending on WGN’s future strategy, a separation between the Cubs and WGN-TV may be driven by WGN as much as by the Cubs.

And Chicago media man Robert Feder reports what may be a tea leaf pointing in that very direction: WGN America has dropped the local WGN news from its evening rotation. Feder further points to a recent Chicago Tribune (owner of WGN) statement about their WGN America strategy, and their move into more original primetime content.

“We’re transitioning from a network with regional roots to one with a true national identity, driven by provocative, brand-defining programming of the highest quality,” said Matt Cherniss, President and General Manager, WGN America and Tribune Studios. “With this relaunch and our expanded portfolio of original content, we expect to significantly strengthen our position as a destination for viewers.”

While not a perfect parallel – I imagine Cubs games have a stronger national draw than local news – you can see why this suggests changes at WGN. The more they work to clear their primetime schedule for original programming, the less space they’re going to have for less-attractive (at a national level) Cubs games. Perhaps a small package of games could stay on WGN during the day? Beyond that, if WGN America is set on expanding itself, I don’t see how the Cubs will fit into that plan in the long-term.

Six years ago, TBS ended its long-time relationship with the Atlanta Braves under very similar circumstances: more and more Braves games were being shifted off of TBS in favor of a regional sports network (where they were more valuable), while TBS, itself, began its own national branding campaign with more original programming.

At the Convention, while discussing the future of Cubs’ TV broadcasts and WGN, Todd Ricketts made sure to mention that WGN’s strategy is changing, further implying that this entire thing is a two-way street.

I was a WGN/Cubs kid, myself. I became a Cubs fan almost exclusively because of the ability to watch Cubs games on WGN from my home in Ohio. I recognize the value in that kind of setup.

But the world is changing. Broadcasting rights are changing, and the Cubs need to cash in as aggressively as possible. The way people consume television is changing, and WGN America has to grow originally if it wants to survive.

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

64 responses to “A Cubs/WGN-TV Tea Leaf? WGN-America Drops Local News”

  1. rabbit

    I’m going to miss WGN for sure. Especially since my family didn’t have cable as a kid and this was the only team I was able to follow as a kid.
    Just out of curiosity Brett…do you follow any other sports or are you a strictly baseball man. I’m strictly a baseball guy myself.

    1. Funn Dave

      He’s mentioned other sports in the intros to his stories at times.

    2. Boogens

      Brett’s a huge Ohio State fan. ;-)

      1. Jon

        If only the Cubs spent as much on payroll as Ohio State….

        1. DarthHater

          *rim shot*

        2. Edwin

          Ha.

        3. Funn Dave

          GG GB.

      2. cubfanincardinalland

        I heard a few of their players were thinking of going to the NFL early, but they would have had to take a pay cut!

  2. The Instructor

    I understand both sides. It makes sense. However it is sad as far as nostalgia sake. I grew up watching the Cubs in WGN and the Braves on TBS. As a Cubs fan, if we had to lose Greg Maddux, then I was happy it was to Atlanta because I was already a moderate fan just because I could see their games. I also still enjoy watching local Chicago news because I live in the south now. It takes me back to the good ol days. I’m gonna miss it. But times change and I get it. I hope the Cubs cash in big time and I get to see more games than ever. Go Cubs Go!!

    1. ssckelley

      The same, I grew up watching Dale Murphy and Bob Horner right along with watching Cub games. It is to bad that these games will not be made available to the next generation of baseball fans.

  3. CubFan Paul

    Sounds like your downplaying the number of national viewers. Winning baseball and tradition draws viewers, no?

    1. Funn Dave

      It just doesn’t make sense for a national network to devote airtime to a regional baseball team.

  4. MichiganGoat

    Yeah what WGN did (and I think it was just by accident) when cable first hit everyone homes in the 80s is something that will never happen again. Back then there were like 30 channels (who remembers that dial box?), and WGN had baseball everyday and then the magic of 84 that I believe made many us care about the Cubs (as 03 did for another generation but not at this level). Now there are 1000 channels, online viewing options, MLBtv, and everything else. WGN no longer has a captive audience and needs to develop it’s own brand to survive (TBS has done a good job of this). So goodbye WGN you will always be in our hearts but time to move on with no hurt feelings.

    1. ssckelley

      I remember when my parents first got cable I was in heaven. My parents did not get off work until 5 so in the spring and fall Harry Carry was my baby sitter and if they weren’t on there was always something on Nickelodean.

      nick-old.jpg

      If that did not entertain me enough then I would sneak into my parents room and fire up the Intellivision.

      1. Dustin S

        Intellivision, glad a few around still remember that. Before that had an Odessey 2 and TI99/4A lol.

        Even more fond memories are of visiting my grandparents in the mid-late 70s and early 80s, who lived near Peoria and got WGN quite a bit before it became available in western Illinois where I lived. So visiting my grandparents meant I got to catch both Bozo when I was younger and the Cubs on WGN. Usually my grandparents mixed in watching a few Westerns on WGN on the weekends too…

        1. MichaelD

          I remember playing Intellivision baseball. We got so good our games were usually 1-0. Since any player on the field, except the left fielder, could throw out the batter at first, base runners were hard to come by. You just had to hope to hit one just past the third baseman for a home run.

          1. ssckelley

            I used to be able to crank home runs with the video turned off from the sound the pitch made as it came in. I had a hard time getting anyone to play me in that game.

            1. Funn Dave

              Wow….Wow.

            2. DarthHater

              mqdefault.jpg

              Master Po: [after easily defeating the boy in combat] Ha, ha, never assume because a man has no eyes he cannot see. Close your eyes. What do you hear?
              Young Caine: I hear the water, I hear the birds.
              Master Po: Do you hear your own heartbeat?
              Young Caine: No.
              Master Po: Do you hear the grasshopper that is at your feet?
              Young Caine: [looking down and seeing the insect] Old man, how is it that you hear these things?
              Master Po: Young man, how is it that you do not?

      2. miggy80

        Living in Des Moines, as a member of the knot hole gang of the I-Cubs, WGN was a necessity. I remember watching Welcome back Cater waiting for games to come on. The 89′ team was “THE” team. CUBS POWER!

        But when I was at my grandparents house they didn’t have cable so we relied on the Intelevision for entertainment. Tanks and Space invaders were the staples. I didn’t even know they had a baseball game. Games seemed really hard to find for that thing.

    2. Funn Dave

      My sentiments exactly. Well, almost. I’m a bit too young for the ’84 nostalgia factor.

    3. Spoda17

      ++

    4. papa dunks

      Ahhh, to this day, I can still here Van Halen’s “Jump” playing as the lead in to the games!

      1. MichiganGoat

        I still feel like a WGN broadcast is lacking because they no longer play “Jump” it’s part of my picture of WGN- great memory.

  5. Darth Ivy

    About WGN, and putting aside political views, i wouldn’t be surprised if they turned into a FOX News 2.0 and tried getting some of their market share. FNC gets a TON of viewers and is unique. Just think about it. FNC destroys all other news and is the only right wing channel. It’s only a matter of time until another right wing channel comes along to tap into that enormous market share.

    And please, this isn’t about politics. I’m not saying that I like or dislike FOX. Just that it would be a good business idea to create a second right wing channel

    1. 5412

      HI,

      As long as WGN is in Chicago, they will never be a right wing channel.

      Regards,
      5412

      1. cavemancubbie

        There will never be a right wing channel, period. FNC is just left wing light. They just hired James Carville. What the hell does that say? Oh yeah, fair and balanced.

        1. Brocktoon

          Lol

  6. Cerambam

    The lack of a long term tv deal and then about-to-burst bubble of mega contracts is the issue that gives me the most anxiety over the future of the cubs. I try to take solace in the fact that I wasn’t aware of tv money before it became mega deals; perhaps there is some other unexplored territory and the cubs can be the ones to exploit the bubble at the expense of other teams.

  7. BenRoethig

    Of the options, i’ve always seen WGN as the least likely. The Trib co. is broke and they want to reposition WGNA (which I could see getting a name refresh to further separate it from TV-9) they way Time Warner did with TBS.

  8. Edwin

    “driven by provocative, brand-defining programming of the highest quality”

    Like Matlock!

    1. hansman

      And re-runs of America’s Funniest Videos from the 1990′s.

      (at least they could have the Daisy Fuentes ones)

      1. cjdubbya

        And don’t forget How I Met Your Mother…(not complaining, except for the 48 ads for the show during each Cubs broadcast)

  9. hawkcub

    So does WGN not renew deals with the Bulls and now Blackhawks if they don’t get Cubs games anymore. Can see why they would want to follow the TBS model. If the Cubs aren’t playing I never watch WGN. While I watch TBS a good amount.

    1. brainiac

      i always used to watch wgn news when i lived in chicago. best news with the most charismatic personalities ever, especially our guy tom skilling. sad to hear about allison payne. the station wasn’t much beyond the news and local sports, but that was enough.

  10. Funn Dave

    Wow. To me, this says it all. They’re tired of being seen as a Chicago thing. Or maybe they just don’t want to be associated with the lovable losers.

    1. ClevelandCubsFan

      Or maybe they just want to make more money. WGN was the national superstation. That luster is long gone. They either sink quietly into local oblivion or reinvent their brand for the 21st Century. On the plus side it opens a big door for new stations with new ideas and a regional vision.

      1. Funn Dave

        Yeah, it’s the money. I was just having some fun at the Cubbies’ expense.

      2. Funn Dave

        Unfortunately, though, most of those potential new local stations will likely be relegated to specific cable packages.

  11. 5412

    Hi,

    Here is one additional consideration. WGN Chicago and WGN superstation do not always broadcast the same thing. News is a good example. While they had 9:00 PM news in Chicago, those of us outside Chicago get something entirely different.

    Sames holds true for lots of the Bulls and Hawks games, we get Bonanza or something.

    Regards,
    5412

  12. kj1

    WGN America drops local news……….one thing is constant and that is change. Thank you Corporate America!

  13. itzscott

    I was going to switch over to a different cable provider because they carried WGN and my current provider does not simply because of access to Cub telecasts.

    So I guess that’s out the window and I’ll have to pay for Extra Innings…. which I’m not fond of since the broadcast teams usually are not from the Cubs’ feed. Also, Cub games are usually blacked out on Saturdays…..when I don’t work, can lay on the couch and actually have the time to relax and watch a nice Cub game…. because of regional national telecasts where here on the east coast it’s always the Yankees, Mets, Phillies, Nationals or Orioles and rarely the Cubs (unless they’re playing the Cardinals, Braves, Mets or Yankees).

  14. ClevelandCubsFan

    Finish this quote for 2015 (or 2019 if you prefer). .. “Baseball time is here again _______”

    (You can catch it all if you’re’nt a rooftop fan”?)

    1. Funn Dave

      I like it.

  15. bushybrows74

    I grew up in Alsip, IL. WGN made me the only Cub fan in the neighborhood. Just think, without WGN, I might have grown up as a White Sox fan. Attending games with my Dad and attacking unsuspecting first base coaches. Thank you WGN.

  16. Forlines

    I knew this was going to happen one day, but it’s still sad.

  17. hansman

    I’ll be much more sad if they leave WGN radio and the affiliate network goes away.

  18. floos

    As far as I’m concerned, WGN can be dropped from my cable package!

  19. Fastball

    I favor the elimination of WGN completely. I definitely do not like the idea of having day games on WGN. I already hate the fact that I have to put effort into figuring where the game is broadcast each day. If it’s CSN I have to switch to my MLB package. Which I should just watch from their all the time but I don’t. If I just knew I had to watch on MLBTV that would be fine with me. It could be a learned habit I suppose. Always viewed MLBTV as my last resort. Hate the dead air in between innings. But dead air is better than Ace Hardware, Southwest and Menards commercials :) I will Fox would just buy out the CSN contract as well as the WGN contract like this week. Get their shit together quick and broadcast the games on their national FOX Sports Network. Ricketts gets all the money he will ever need. We are able to put a winner on the field damned near immediately and I can watch the Cubbies damned near anywhere I want. So long WGN and your programming that is older than dirt.

    1. ssckelley

      Yeah without Cub games I would not miss WGN either. Do they still show Andy Griffin reruns?

  20. clark addison

    I dumped cable this year because I was tired of paying for stuff I never watch, like shopping and religious channels. So I’ll be signing up with MLB tv and get Cubs games on my iPad, iPhone, and tv. Bye WGN, I won’t miss ya.

  21. Napercal

    Does anyone think a WGN superstation would ever make a play for more sports programming in general ala TBS?

  22. V23

    Brett is right, it is a different world. I think he is like so many that grew up with the Cubs because of WGN. Who doesn’t remember coming home after school and watching the rest of the Cubs games? Or even during the day watching games during summer in between being outside. Ratings/attendance might be hurt by day games, but I think children grew up knowing the Cubs because of WGN & Day games.
    That was something shared by those of us who grew up in Chicago and those who are in other areas.

    However, it’s a different world, and the younger generation doesn’t think of the Cubs that way. Talk to kids under 15 about the Cubs, and their brand with the younger generation (unless taught by their parents) is not very good. Cubs are on WGN less and they are hopeless. 10 year olds mostly don’t care about being good in 2016.

    I remember traveling years ago and being so excited to be able to always watch the cubs. Now, I guess I still can, but on my computer. People all around the country always knew about the Cubs.

    The point is, I think it’s very important to keep the Cubs at least a little on WGN to keep the non-Chicago area population traditions going. It’s a unique base the Cubs enjoy.

    As far as local, I would say CSN doesn’t do a great production job of the Cubs. I still prefer WGN, instead of comcast +++ or whatever. I have no relationship with Comcast, but I do with WGN (TV & Radio).

  23. Eternal Pessimist

    To me so much of the Cubs mystique died with Harry Carey (and Steve Stones expulsion). Back then I could enjoy the broadcast, even when the team was bad…similar to the difficulty The Tonight show had when Carson moved on.

    We need some broadcast magic for the Cubs. Heard it tweeted they might ha e Kevin Mathews broadcast the games. It was a joke, but would be worth listening to!

    1. YourResidentJag

      Couldn’t agree more. Well put.

    2. Brocktoon

      Steve Stone leaving was probably the best off-the-field development the Cubs have had in the last 30 years.

    3. woody

      As politically correct as announcers have to be tody and with Twitter etc. Harry Caray wouldn’t last a month in todays environment considering some of the shit he used to say. I loved him, but it’s a whole new age we live in.

  24. Diehardthefirst

    Best way to watch a baseball game is on the radio cause announcers are better because they have to be so fan can feel like he’s at the game

  25. sethdiggs

    Ever since Brett’s piece on the urgency to get a deal done while the market’s hot, I can’t help but wonder about what, if any, impact the current level of competitiveness would have on their ability to negotiate the optimal deal. I hate to divert pleasant reminiscing to the terribly worn out theme of whether or not the Cubs should have maintained a higher level of competetiveness through free agency, especially since 1) I think they are going about things exactly as they should and have said they would all along; 2) Brett’s piece on true talent level, win curves, etc. offered some pretty compelling evidence on which to base a decision.

    Nevertheless, it’s been a contentious topic, and in trying to understand the other side of the argument, I force myself to look at things like the Tanaka situation (probably never would have signed anyway but the Cubs’ dreadful situation – at the moment – was often alluded to as a major obstacle) wonder if recent drops in attendance, tv ratings, etc. might diminish their leverage in negotiating a TV contract. I wouldn’t expect such a small sample size to be too impactful, but since this is such a monumental time, I can’t help but consider all the variables. Maybe I’m being paranoid…

  26. Diehardthefirst

    Here is an idea for the Ricketts to ponder- Netflix- see if Cubs games can be viewed thru Netflix- possibilities are endless- could be a game changer

  27. mparton

    I saw this coming when they took Bozo off the air…..

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