We’ve suspected it and discussed it for about a year now, and it looks like it’s a reality: the days of the Chicago Cubs being beamed into households across America on WGN will come to a close this year.
No, it’s not because of the Cubs’ upcoming TV deal free agency – their contract for about half of their games with WGN expires after this season. It’s because WGN America wants to become a true cable channel, rather than a mere superstation.
In a move that TBS pulled off with great aplomb many years ago (remember when they used to have the Braves? It’s been a while), WGN America plans to drop Chicago sports in favor of their own regular programming according to comments from Tribune CEO Peter Liguori and a great report from Crain’s Lynne Marek. The goal is to have the WGN America cable transition mostly complete by next January.
As Liguori explained recently, per Marek’s report, the appeal of Chicago-based sports really drops off when you get outside the Chicago area (despite the existence of many of us outside of Chicago who do like the Cubs on WGN, the average cable viewer would rather watch a ‘How I Met Your Mother’ rerun than a Cubs game), and they don’t make much money that way.
On the flip side, if WGN America can get an original program to take off and become a hit? Or two or three? Shows that fill up their regular lineup, rather than sporting events that don’t draw as well and are very expensive to secure? That’s just way better business for WGN. For more on this point, Marek’s piece provides excellent additional background.
Before you go too far on this, keep in mind: it’s still possible that the Cubs could re-up with WGN for their broadcast rights after this season. That’s because WGN still has its local Chicago station – Channel 9 – on which Cubs games figure to be relatively well-watched. And, hey, who knows? Maybe a few games (day games?) will still trickle onto the cable channel.
But those of you outside of Chicago, well, this is probably last call for Cubs games on WGN in the way you’ve watched them in the past. Enjoy ‘em while they last.