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kid-watching-tvChicago Cubs fans await the fate of WGN games after this season, with no announcement coming before the start of the season. Recall, the half of the Cubs’ games contracted to WGN are open to the market after this season, and are currently being negotiated with suitors. The other half of the Cubs’ games, which are contracted to CSN, are not open until after 2019, and cashing in on that lot sooner than later is probably the sticky wicket the Cubs are trying to now navigate.

In the meantime, the two most recent large market deals, the Dodgers and the Phillies, which are expected to be instructive for the valuation on the Cubs’ deal (that’s a very good thing), have run into some trouble when it comes to actually getting baseball games on the air (that’s a potentially bad thing). The latest turns in those sagas have DirecTV and Time Warner Cable (the partner in the Dodgers’ new regional sports network, SportsNet LA) very publicly fighting about the RSN’s very high carriage fees (the price all subscribers have to pay to get that RSN carried (yes, all subscribers, not just the folks who want the Dodgers’ RSN)), and a similar, but more complex, carriage dispute in Philadelphia with a handful of carriers.

In Los Angeles, barely 30% of households currently have any kind of access to SportsNet LA, and with DirecTV threatening to walk away from the negotiating table for the entire season, there’s a huge chunk of fans that might not get games at all this year (DirecTV has 30% of the market, according to the LA Times). These fights tend to resolve themselves eventually, but not before lots of public anger and posturing. This is not the kind of thing we want to look forward to after the Cubs sign their big money deal.

We’ve seen these kinds of issues coming from miles away, and, while they won’t necessarily inhibit the Cubs from landing a franchise-changing broadcast rights contract, I’m sure the issues are in the minds of the networks with whom the Cubs are negotiating. The Dodgers, the Phillies, the Astros, and the Padres have all run into difficulties getting their games in all of the households in a region after signing a big money TV deal.

The more resistant cable and satellite providers become to laying out huge carriage fees, the less attractive exclusive rights on a new RSN become for bidders. The idea in these carriage fights is for the fans to push the cable and satellite operators to carry the RSN at any cost – but, at some point, that cost is simply going to be too high. And then you’ll have carriers balking, and you might even have fans refusing to push.

The stories in Los Angeles and Philadelphia remain worth our attention, and maybe even moreso after the Cubs finally pin down what they’re going to do with their broadcast rights.

  • Edwin

    Well, I’m sure everything will work out smoothly and on time for the Cubs. I mean, when has it not?

  • Nate

    Brett, what do you think is more likely: the Cubs signing a mega-contract with CSN for the full slate of games or the Cubs going with a temporary deal through 2019 with CSN or a third-party and then beginning their own network?

  • pinkstonaa

    The worst part of this whole thing is “Go Cubs Go” will be outdated once the Cubs aren’t on WGN… We’ll need a new song and everything.

  • The Nefi Perez Plan

    I still think the best long term deal would be for them to get a reasonable deal on wgn even if it means a decent amount less money. The future value of potential new young fans nationally discovering the Cubs and becoming lifelong fans outweighs the dollars to be made from the RSN in my opinion though I have not done any in depth analysis on it. Do you think google would take a $300 million payment to make future youtube videos only available in the Bay area? Maybe not the best analogy but I do see putting all games on the RSN as a sort play. That said I don’t have cable and get my baseball from mlb.tv soit doesn’t really matter to me either way.

    • The Nefi Perez Plan

      *short play

    • Edwin

      I don’t think WGN really wants the games anyways. Sounds like they’d rather be more like TBS or TNT.

      • The Nefi Perez Plan

        That is out of the Cubs control and if that is the case then the Cubs have no viable national alternative and should try to get as much money as possible out of the contract before the cable/dish model blows up.

      • http://www.friendly-confines.com hansman

        Ya…everyone loves AFV Marathons!

        • Fishin Phil

          A nine iron to the crotch is TV at its best!

    • http://www.friendly-confines.com hansman

      “The future value of potential new young fans nationally discovering the Cubs…”

      Future new fans aren’t going to be swayed by WGN. The future lies in getting these games onto mobile devices.

      • The Nefi Perez Plan

        I am more thinking of grade and middle schoolers. Kids still come home and play or watch tv. And the games are on mobile devices but are not free or included in something their parents already subscribe to.

        • http://www.friendly-confines.com hansman

          There are 5-year olds that are incredibly tech saavy. The first team that figures out how to make a baseball game interactive/social on a tablet/smartphone is going to get a HUGE fan base.

          Could incorporate some sort of game that users earn points/badges/baseball cards they can show off.

          Kids just have a million more choices today that are far more entertaining than watching a baseball game. Hell, you could create a separate broadcast crew that caters solely to internet viewers. (The tricky part to this would be getting around MLBAM’s iron fist rule of all things net-based)

        • http://www.friendly-confines.com hansman

          There are incredibly tech-saavy 5-year olds.

          Reaching pre-teen viewers and getting them hooked will require a completely different way of broadcasting games. If you could create a separate broadcast crew for internet viewers and make the games interactive with users earning points/badges/etc… and then allowing them to share that information on Facebook/Twitter/etc… would go a long ways to hooking young viewers.

          The problem isn’t a national reach to kids (they have other shows to watch that are a million times more entertaining to them), it’s getting them to choose Cubs baseball over Spongebob. 20 years ago there were fewer choices and no internet.

          The biggest hurdle to this, though, is going to be MLBAM. If the Cubs do it, it would be available to ALL of the teams.

          • cub4life

            “make the games interactive with users earning points/badges/etc… and then allowing them to share that information on Facebook/Twitter/etc…”

            This is a good point and though not all the “older” folks would care for this, alot of the “Tech savy” people would. So this is a good Idea hansman and I wish the Cubs would think about it.

          • DarthHater

            “make the games interactive with users earning points/badges/etc… and then allowing them to share that information on Facebook/Twitter/etc…”

            Oooh, you know what would really generate interest in the Cubs? An interactive site where every meatball with functioning fingers could post comments endlessly pissing and moaning about every minor league signing and each day’s lineup card! If only the technology existed…

            • ssckelley

              So BN comments scrolling at the bottom of my TV!

              • DarthHater

                Next thing you know, Bert will own the Cubs!

                • ssckelley

                  Moar TV time!

                • Fishin Phil

                  “This inning is brought to you by Feline Pajamas, Don’t let your cat run around naked!”

          • The Nefi Perez Plan

            Good points. One thing to keep in mind is mlb owns the digital rights to the games, not the Cubs so there still needs to be a way for the games to be watched. On a RSN, the interactive apps to be used while watching the game would still mostly just be useful to kids in the RSN viewing area or the ones whose parents subscribe to mlb.tv.

          • ssckelley

            How about a Saturday morning cartoon featuring Clark?

            • C. Steadman

              But…he doesn’t wear PANTS!

              • ssckelley

                I don’t think Yogi Bear did either and I turned out fine. :D

                • C. Steadman

                  Bugs Bunny didn’t have any as well and I’m crime free, heck SpongeBob has pants but I’ve still seen his bikini bottom more than a few times while watching the show.

          • Cubbie Blues

            5? Try my 2 year old. You hand her a turned off iPhone and she will turn it on, scroll to an app, and then scroll to a video she wants to watch. We don’t have “cable” and my kids will find ways to watch what they want to watch.

      • CubsFaninMS

        I’ve completed scrapped cable. I use the MLB.tv app for the Cubs games and I beam my iPhone’s screen via AppleTV for MiLB.tv to watch the Smokies, D-Cubs, and I-Cubs. MLB.tv and MiLB.tv combined were like $175 per year. Not too bad.

        • college_of_coaches

          I was wondering about this, as an option. It sounds like a great idea, and one that I’ll have to explore. Followup question, do you have the option to record, or store games on the MLB.tv app?

          • The Nefi Perez Plan

            Replays are available several years back although their availability depends on which platform you are watching on. You can always at least get them on the computer.

            This is for the mlb, not sure if the milb has previos seasons.

      • C. Steadman

        Future new fans will be swayed by HOMERZ….this is where Baez, Bryant and Soler come into play

    • Brocktoon

      The Superstation model is dead. Kids had nothing to watch at 3 PM on a weekday in the past.

      • Unlucky 13

        Thats exactly how I became a Cubs fan in WV as a kid in the late 80s. I wonder if my generation (I’m 36) will be the final national base that the Cubs have.

  • CubsFaninMS

    *completely

  • 1060Ivy

    Think the Astro’s story is as interesting as Dodger and Phillies. Brett has covered the story previously but here’s my understanding of the situation. The Astros coupled with the Houston Rocket’s to form their own network in 2012. Unfortunately, the only carrier they hooked up with is ComCast which only represents about 40% of Houston market. Dismal ratings coupled with low distribution with high payouts to teams led to bankruptcy filing for the entity so the Astros could be shopping their media rights again.

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/christinasettimi/2014/03/26/mlbs-most-valuable-television-deals/

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Easily the most interesting one.

    • cub4life

      I was just thinking about this the other day. If the Cubs got there own station and then “leased” out time to the Bulls (and maybe even the other CHI baseball team, what was there name again) the could bank all kinds of money. (if it can be done).

      • cub4life

        oh and you could add the Blackhawks to that list too. And even everything Bears except the actual games (since the NFL has those rites).

      • ssckelley

        I wonder if Reinsdorf has not considered something like this for the Sox and Bulls.

        • BenRoethig

          He basically has it. He owns 40% of CSN Chicago

  • Edwin

    I might have missed it, but was there any news either way regarding the OF signage/Rooftops issue? I know opening day was supposedly a goal date for having some progress made, but I don’t remember hearing anything either way. How bad is no news?

    • D.G.Lang

      How bad is no news?

      That reminds me of a time back in merry old England when they had kings who had court jesters.

      One king in particular had a jester that he really liked but who always made a pun out of everything.

      One day the king got offended by the constant puns and decided that the jester must be put away. While the jester was sitting in jail waiting to be hung the king had a change of mind and decided to give the jester a second chance. The jester then replied replied “no noose is good noose”.

      I leave it to you to decide just how good “no news” is.

  • Jon

    In these disputes, why is it always involving DirecTV? One would think they are the problem when it comes to the negotiations.

    Remember the Blackhawks coverage fiasco in 2009? I think it was resolved right before the playoffs started.

  • ssckelley

    Could we get a Cubs Network? All Cubs, all year long broadcasting everything from minor league baseball, AFL games, MLB games, replay games, to interesting Cub shows or a BTN like Journey.

    • Edwin

      They could, but you would still need to have providers carry it. And depending on the fee the Cubs Network would charge, there would be the same problems.

      • ssckelley

        I wouldn’t care if it was a premium offering or bundled into a more expensive package, I’d pay for it.

  • cubfanincardinalland

    With Crane Kenney steering the ship, what could possibly go wrong?
    Talked with a smart guy this morning about the Ricketts selling shares.
    Is this out of a recognition that a deal with the rooftops is not going to happen, and they will not proceed with the jumbo and signage? Just not worth the legal fight.
    But the problem is, renovating the stadium is not an option. Can’t take on more debt, and can’t rely on signage revenue to finance it. Solution is to bring in outside money to pay for it, and run the clock out in 10 years on the rooftops.Shiny new park still brings in more money.

    • MightyBear

      Why can’t they take on more debt?

      • Edwin

        It could possibly interfere with MLB’s debt service rule.

      • Hebner The Gravedigger

        The existing Loan Agreement likely has a restriction on new debt. Actually, it very likely contains restrictions on new equity offerings too. I can only guess that this has been already discussed, at length, with the existing debt holders.

  • JCubs79

    What gets done first? A new TV deal or they break ground on the Wrigley renovation?

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