As you’ll recall, the 2014 season could be the Chicago Cubs’ last with WGN-TV and WGN Radio. Last Fall, the Cubs opted out of their deal with WGN-TV, which allows them to shop their TV rights – for the portion of games allocated to WGN, anyway – for the 2015 season. Around the same time, WGN Radio opted out of its deal with the Cubs, which will similarly put the radio rights up for grabs for 2015.
Typically, where rights are up, contracts are signed at least a year in advance, and, thus, we would have expected to have heard something on these deals by now. Indeed, at the Cubs Convention, Cubs executives suggested word on the TV deal was very possible by Opening Day, and word on the radio deal was likely by Opening Day.
Obviously, Opening Day has come and gone, and, although it’s kind of an arbitrary cut-off, it is interesting that we’re still waiting to hear on these deals. There’s no reason to be concerned, mind you, because there are plenty of interested parties – the delay is just about getting the right deal. And, in the case of the TV rights, it’s long been my opinion/suspicion that the Cubs were going to do everything they could to try and link up the current WGN rights with the full slate of rights, which don’t become available until after 2019, when the Cubs’ deal with CSN expires. If that sounds complicated, it is, which would explain the current delay. Ideally, the Cubs will find a partner who will take on the WGN games starting in 2015, and the full slate starting in 2020. In exchange for locking in those games long-term, the Cubs will start seeing some of the big-ish money as soon as next year.
Where do things stand on these deals?
Well, a new report from Lewis Lazare has the Cubs close to decisions, which could come in a matter of two to three weeks. Lazare intimates that CBS’s WBBM is a strong suitor for the radio rights, which is something we’ve heard before. The radio rights are believed to be worth something in the $10 million annually range, and that’s probably where they’ll stay for the foreseeable future (there is no radio bubble).
On the TV side, however, there’s a whole lot of revenue to be grabbed (as in, franchise-altering revenue), and Lazare mentions Fox, a potential partner about whom we’ve heard before. The upside with Fox is that they’ve got a local channel – 32 – onto which they can place the WGN games until 2020, and then they’ve got the kind of sports presence onto which they could build a new network with the Cubs. And, during that five-year bridge period, if there are prime-time scheduling conflicts, maybe some of those games could still be shown on WGN (but, even there, keep in mind: WGN America is trying to become its own original-content producer, so they may not want the conflicts either).
In the end, there’s not a ton of new information here, but it’s always interesting to see a report that mentions the very same names we’ve been hearing about already. And it’s nice to keep the information ball rolling, too. It sounds like we can expect to hear something soon-ish.