The Chicago Cubs’ TV broadcast rights to a little less than half of their games, currently held by WGN, are set to expire after this season. Those rights are currently being negotiated with potential partners, and those negotiations are believed to include the possibility of such a partner picking up the full slate of games after 2019. The rights to those games are currently held by CSN Chicago, a network in which the Ricketts Family – the owner of the Cubs – has a 25% interest.
Against that backdrop, and in light of the TV-money-driven landscape-shifting in MLB, recent TV deals for other Major League teams, and the fallout thereafter, should be followed with considerable interest by Cubs fans. To that end, let’s check in on three recent deals and what’s going on with them right now …
- The biggest of the big money deals – seriously: don’t expect the Cubs to even come close to the deal – went to the Los Angeles Dodgers more than a year ago, and the associated network is set to debut later this month. That $8.35 billion, 25-year behemoth will ensure that the Dodgers remain in the upper echelon of teams, financially, for a long, long time. But that doesn’t mean fans in Los Angeles will be better for it. To wit: Time Warner Cable, the entity with which the Dodgers paired on the monster deal, is having trouble coming to terms with various cable/satellite operators on carriage deals to actually get SportsNet LA into the majority of pay TV homes in LA.
- The Los Angeles Times has the full story, including on-point thoughts about the burgeoning TV problem from Dan York, DirecTV’s chief content offers: “Time Warner Cable has unilaterally decided to pay an unprecedented high price, and now wants all of their own customers, as well as those of their competitors, none of which who had any say in the matter, to pick up that tab.” The problem for fans? Right now, Time Warner is not willing to sell SportsNet LA “a la carte” (i.e., fans that want it pay an extra fee to their service provider). So, unless your service provider pays the carriage fee (which is then passed on to ALL customers, whether they want SportsNet LA or not), you will not be able to see Dodgers games in LA. These carriage fights are ugly, and underscore a simple fact: huge money TV deals for baseball teams make sense only if cable/satellite customers are willing to see their monthly bill continue to rise.
- The relevant RSN in Houston – shared by the Astros and Rockets – is currently demonstrating what can happen when too few of those carriage agreements are arranged: it’s in bankruptcy. The Astros are unhappy, the Rockets are unhappy, and the TV partner – Comcast – is unhappy, too. It’s quite a mess that will take some time to sort out. And, in the interim, the Astros could be losing out on revenue (because of the partial team ownership in the RSN), despite having already inked their big-money deal.
- On a lighter note, at least the San Diego Padres will finally be on the air for most homes in San Diego, after Time Warner agreed to carry Fox Sports San Diego. The network was formed back in 2012, and has been the subject of many frustrated writings since then.
- I suppose the upshot here is that, even after your team secures its big-time TV deal, there can be headaches and problems, especially if your team took equity in the RSN carrying the team’s games – something that seems pretty likely in any Cubs deal, given the upside to having an ownership stake. With ownership, suddenly the network’s carriage and viewership problems are your problems.