It’s official: the Chicago Cubs are marrying back up with WGN-TV for a portion of their games after opting out of their agreement last year. The new deal, which is for WGN-9 *local only*, will run through 2019 and feature 45 games. After that season, the Cubs’ full slate of games currently have no TV home, which means the Cubs can get to work on starting their own regional sports network.
The deal between the Cubs and WGN has been rumored for a while, and was reported earlier this week. You can see more details on the Cubs’ TV deal situation at that link.
“Cubs fans have grown accustomed to watching Cubs baseball on WGN since 1948, so we are pleased to continue this longstanding tradition through our new broadcast agreement,” said Cubs President of Business Operations Crane Kenney in a statement accompanying the official announcement. “We are very excited to begin a new chapter of Cubs baseball with WGN and welcome Jim Deshaies and Len Kasper, two of the best broadcasters in the business, as teammates in our organization.”
What Kenney means by the last bit is that the Cubs’ TV broadcasters are now official employees of the Cubs, rather than WGN-TV. That could make future negotiations – with, for example, a Cubs Network – a little smoother.
“We’re pleased to enter into this new agreement, which continues our longstanding, historic partnership with the Cubs and we’re looking forward to some great baseball,” said Larry Wert, President of Broadcast Media for Tribune Media in the same statement. “The positive moves made by the Cubs, including the hiring of Joe Maddon, the signing of Jon Lester, and the club’s investment in Wrigleyville will be great for our city. We believe in the Cubs and the Ricketts family, and we look forward to growing the fan base even further for both the Cubs and WGN-TV.”
As we’ve discussed at length, WGN-9 is not the same thing as WGN America, which is the superstation you’ve probably got in your cable package. WGN America, however, no longer wants to be a superstation that broadcasts WGN-9 content across the country, including local Chicago sports. Instead, they want to do their own thing with original programming, not unlike when TBS dumped the Braves many years ago. So, this Cubs deal with WGN does not mean you will be getting the Cubs back on your cable WGN station. Those days are over. WGN America is out of that business.
The Cubs’ broadcast rights are now set for 2015, with about 80 games going to CSN Chicago, 45 games going to WGN-9, 25 games going to ABC-7, and the remaining 10 to 12 likely to be national games on ESPN and FOX (with the possibility that they could pick up some more if the Cubs are playing well).
It’s unclear whether folks in MLB’s blackout region for the Chicago Cubs will be able to get these WGN/ABC games via their own local CW and ABC affiliate stations (if they don’t get WGN-9 and ABC-7 already), though I’m sure that issue will be discussed in the coming weeks quite a bit (and probably negotiated on a station-by-station basis). I’ll have more on that soon, and I expect we’ll hear about it at the Convention next week, too.
With the short-term deals now squared away, the Cubs set about the very important business of putting together the long-term, full-slate TV rights deal, very likely by way of a new regional sports network (likely formed by a Cubs partnership with another TV network or cable provider). It remains possible that the Cubs could get that deal in place before the 2019 season ends, and figure out a way out of their current short-term deals. I wouldn’t call that the expectation, mind you. But it’s been held out multiple times over the past year as possible.
In other words, even with all deals now in place for 2015 to 2019, the TV rights story isn’t going to take a five-year break.