While most of the broadcast rights focus has been on the next television contract(s) for the Chicago Cubs, given the relative dollars involved, there is still the matter of the Cubs’ radio broadcast rights to be determined. With falling ratings and revenues, WGN decided to opt out of its current agreement with the Cubs, which reportedly pays the team about $10 million per year, which means the Cubs’ rights are available for anyone to grab beginning after the 2014 season.
Sticking with WGN has ultimately been the safest bet, but with so many alternatives in the Chicago market, it probably wasn’t better than 50/50. And media maven Ed Sherman reports that CBS’s WBBM-AM has emerged as the frontrunner to secure the Cubs’ radio rights after 2014. Despite the implication of WGN opting out of the deal (meaning that they think it’s not a good deal), Sherman says the Cubs are likely to be able to match the $10 million they see annually under the current deal, and maybe even improve upon it.
Sherman’s report is an interesting read for some of the finer points of local media relationships, including how CBS could maximize its relationship with the Cubs by incorporating other Cubs-related content on some of its other stations (and how WGN losing the Cubs could impact the White Sox’s relationship with The Score, which expires after 2016).
In the end, what matters is that the Cubs will still have a radio home that is accessible by those who want to listen (and WBBM-AM would accommodate that), and that the revenue associated with the deal is at least where it was with WGN. Beyond that, it would certainly be a knock on tradition to not have the Cubs on WGN radio after almost 90 years together, but, as it is with the TV deal, we may learn that it was actually best for both sides to move on as they look toward their individual futures.
(And for those concerned, the Cubs have said that, wherever their radio broadcasts go, Pat Hughes (and now, presumably, Ron Coomer) will go with them.)