In the present era of Chicago Cubs television broadcasts, it’s a pretty good deal to be a cord cutter in the Chicago area. Unlike every other Major League Baseball team, the Cubs broadcast nearly half of their games on over-the-air stations WGN-9 and ABC-7.
Of course, there was a time when virtually all Cubs games were available on WGN-9, and simultaneously broadcast across the country on WGN’s cable station. But, with broadcast rights deals exploding in value, and with WGN’s cable channel moving away from sports content, everything has changed, particularly in the last few years, and will again in the next few.
Although the Cubs now split their rights between WGN-9, ABC-7, and, primarily, CSN, those deals run through only the 2019 season. After that, the Cubs have signaled quite clearly that they intend to do what every other big league team has done: secure a long-term, huge money rights contract. More specifically, the Cubs plan to create their own cable network (a Regional Sports Network, or RSN) with an existing network or cable partner. In so doing, there will effectively be a “CubsNet” channel on some tier of everyone’s cable package in the Chicago area. (The Cubs and the network will look to get cable and satellite providers to carry the channel on a basic tier for a healthy per-month-per-subscriber price, but we’ve seen that’s been a very long-standing battle for the Dodgers.) For folks outside of the Chicago area, it’s possible your local provider will make the channel available for an extra fee.
This is all very standard, expected stuff. In the era of cord-cutting, live sports programming has become among the most valuable TV content out there. Baseball’s many teams have and will continue to cash in, and asking them to forgo those dollars for almost any reason is a silly affair.
With that in mind … a Chicago Alderman has asked the Cubs to do just that.
As the Chicago Tribune reports, Southwest Side Ald. Edward Burke introduced a resolution urging the Cubs not to start their own cable network, and instead keep broadcasting games on local, over-the-air channels. In support of his resolution, he points to the high prices of attending games, the concessions the city has already made to Cubs owners about ballpark signage (are you serious, dude?), and, of course, the higher costs associated with having to have a particular cable channel in your subscription.
Here’s the thing: Burke is not wrong to urge. But here’s the other thing: he’s not wrong in the sense that a politician urging Apple to give all of his constituents a free iPad would not be wrong. I mean, it’d be pretty great for his voters, right?
… which is to say, this is simply grandstanding of the highest order, and of the kind that makes me a little frustrated that I have a self-imposed limitation on getting no further into politics on this site than the news or analysis absolutely requires. So I’ll leave that part there.
Where Burke does take things clearly too far is in a subsequent suggestion that, if the Cubs do not heed his urging, maybe the City Council won’t approve their next request. You can read the Tribune piece for more on that, as well as Cubs spokesman Julian Green’s stern response.
In the end, none of this matters too much more than providing an opportunity to remind everyone of where things stand on the broadcast rights issue. The Cubs have indicated as recently as this offseason that they’re still working on the particulars and on finding the right partner, but that things are otherwise full speed ahead on a new network. I’d imagine the ever-shifting stream landscape makes matters more complicated (recall: MLB holds the streaming rights to games, not the individual teams, and has been working with RSNs to get streaming deals in place).
Still, the expectation as we sit here today lays out something like this: by 2019, the Cubs will have paired with a cable provider or a TV network to create a new RSN. That RSN will then “buy” the rights to Cubs games from the Cubs (significantly increasing the TV-related team revenue), and try to “sell” its offering to each cable and satellite provider in the Chicago area. Those games will then be available on your cable/satellite plan, and you will also be able to stream them to your devices so long as you are a cable/satellite subscriber who otherwise gets the Cubs’ RSN.