You know the drill with the Chicago Cubs TV rights: about half the games are uncommitted for 2015 through 2019, with the other half currently contracted to CSN. The uncommitted set previously belonged to WGN-TV, but the Cubs opted out of that deal in part to try and increase their revenue for that five year period, but also so that they could line up the full slate of games for bidding after 2019 (otherwise, the WGN portion of the games would be committed through 2022 (people always seem to ignore that part when they say the Cubs shot themselves in the foot by opting out of the deal)).
To date, the Cubs still don’t have a partner for those former WGN games in 2015, though Tom Ricketts and Crane Kenney have indicated that there are still many suitors and a deal could come soon. Indeed, Kenney has recently left open the possibility that the Cubs’ long-term (i.e., post-2019, full slate) deal could be a factor in the present negotiations, which would allow the Cubs to capitalize on the booming local broadcast rights boom sooner, rather than later. That is potentially huge.
If that’s going to be the case, though, the Cubs would have to move on from WGN, given that their national arm, WGN America, is moving away from sports broadcasting, and the local arm can’t possibly sustain a multi-billion-dollar long-term deal.
And if this tweet from Bruce Levine is to be credited, the Cubs may not yet be moving on from WGN:
WGN TV boss Larry Wert met with President of business Crane Kenney at Wrigley today Cub TV games up in the air for 2015
— Bruce Levine (@MLBBruceLevine) November 10, 2014
Obviously a meeting is just a meeting, and it could have been, for example, the Cubs extending WGN one final chance to retain their games through 2019. Or it could have been nothing at all.
On the other hand, if the meeting means that the Cubs are even still considering a WGN reunion, then hopes that the long-term deal will be inked in coordination with whatever the Cubs are doing with the WGN rights from 2015 through 2019 will probably have to be tempered. If that were a real possibility, it would have to take precedent over any kind of short-term deal with WGN, and I’d be surprised to see the Cubs even still talking to WGN. (Again: that assumes many things about this meeting, which may or may not be true, and I offer these thoughts only for the sake of discussion.)
Instead, if WGN is still involved, the Cubs might simply sign the best bridge deal they can with WGN (i.e., just like before, WGN pays $X per game for the rights – previously, it was about $250,000 per game, which is probably about 1/4 to 1/8 of the market rate), and then keep working on a full slate deal over the next few years, which would not kick in until after 2019. Way back when, that always seemed like the most likely outcome for these games, but with so many options, with the market ever changing, and with technology changing right alongside it, making predictions in this space is really tough.
Eventually, we’ll find something definitive out, and probably before the end of the year. Whatever network is going to get Cubs games next year has to be able to sell advertising space, a process that is already well underway for most networks.
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