kid-watching-tvAs 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.

  • Edwin

    by soon-ish, I take that to mean 3 months from now.

    • hansman

      soon-ish means sometime in 2017.

      It’s all part of Ricketts grand scheme to field a non-competative team while raking in loads of profits!

      • Edwin

        The real kiss of death is if the deal is 100% confirmed on twitter.

    • Brett

      I made sure to add the “ish” for a reason. Ha.

  • BenRoethig

    Fox also has channel 50 in addition to the channel 32. They’d find room for the games.

    • JCubs79

      They also have FoxSports1 now as well. They just showed the Cards-Reds game on there yesterday I believe. I’m interested to see where it goes.

  • CubChymyst

    With the Dodgers and Phillies having difficulties with their contracts we could be seeing the bubble burst. The networks are probably offering less then the Cubs want.

    • hansman

      If this were the housing bubble, it’d be 2008.

      Right now, I think the best route for the Ricketts would be to just shore up the WGN games and hope that the landscape improves by 2019 or that they can innovate a new way to distribute games between now and then.

  • Chris

    Reading the site at work…my company’s servers are based in Orange County, CA and so BN is littered with “Call your network provider and demand LA Dodgers coverage” ads.

    (Hopefully not) coming to a Chicago near you…

    • Brett

      Whoa – that’s like a fascinating meta layer right there.

  • JCubs79

    Brett, Weren’t there rumors about an NBC deal with the Cubs and the Blackhawks a couple months ago? Something about NBC taking both the Cubs and Hawks games as a package deal type thing?

    • Brett

      I remember hearing something like that, but I don’t remember how credible it was (that’s not a criticism of it – I genuinely don’t remember).

      • JCubs79

        Ahhh ok. I thought I recalled you writing about it but it must have been somewhere else. I was just curious if there was any chatter still about it.

  • woody

    Ricketts really inherited a mess when he bought the team. Two different TV contracts that expire at different time and then the rooftop contract. You need Houdini to try to unravel that mess. I somehow get the feeling that the networks interested in the TV contracts might be waiting for the renovation plan to get sorted out. I know that before I would lock the Cubs up for a ten year contract I would want to be pretty sure that they were commited to staying at a renovated Wrigley field. Those people have to sell advertising slots etc. and any instability would certainly hurt their bottom line. Anyway those are my thoughts and not neccesarily the reality of the situation.

  • cubs2015

    Brett have you heard the latest rumor that Warren Buffet is potentially the investor willing to buy a large amount of the cubs shares? Not sure this matters at all but Buffet seems like the type of person we want investing in the cubs$$$$$

    • Brett

      I saw it; read it and elected not to share it. To me, it looked pretty flimsy.

      • cubs2015

        Yeah that’s fair. I’m sure there will be lots of speculation until the Cubs/Ricketts decide if they want to sell those shares or not

      • DarthHater

        Forbes reported it, so it can’t be flimsy, can it? 😉

        In any event, if only small, non-controlling shares will be sold, what difference does it make who the buyer is? Buffetts dollars are no more valuable than anybody else’s.

        • Brett

          That was the other reason I let it slide. There are probably hundreds of “interested” people. He’s got a name, sure. So will many of the interested folks, I’m guessing.

          • ssckelley

            Perhaps Tom Ricketts should make an appearance on The Shark Tank.

            • Brett

              The Wife and I were watching last week – we love Shark Tank – and I said, “Wouldn’t it be so weird if Cuban had bought the Cubs, and we’d be sitting here watching this, and I’d be like, ‘man, it’s so weird that he owns the Cubs and he’s also doing this.'” She was like, “why would that be weird?” And I was like, “I don’t know, it just would be, man.”

    • hansman

      Eh, it doesn’t really matter who invests in the Cubs. They still won’t be able to inject any funds into the baseball operations outside of magically increasing the revenue. I suppose you could have that investor buy up all unsold tickets on game day.

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