At long last, the saga of where the Chicago Cubs will broadcast their games in 2015 after opting out of their deal with WGN-TV more than a year ago, could be coming to a close. With a familiar station. Sort of.
Back in December, right around the time the Chicago Cubs announced that 25 of their games from 2015 to 2019 would be broadcast by local ABC-7 (recall, about 80 to 90 games are carried on CSN Chicago, with whom the Cubs are partnered through 2019), there was a report from Matt Spiegel at CBS that 45 games or so would be going to WGN-9, the local WGN station in Chicago. That came after a couple months where a return to WGN had been rumored for some time, so it all made sense.
And, sure enough, Bruce Levine reports (with confirmation from Patrick Mooney) that the Cubs will indeed be signing a TV deal with WGN-9 for 45 games in 2015, and going through 2019:
Source -Chicago Cubs and WGN TV will announce new multi year deal .WGN will broadcast 45 games this season . Should be announced this week.
— Bruce Levine (@MLBBruceLevine) January 6, 2015
— Patrick Mooney (@CSNMooney) January 6, 2015
Although this deal runs through 2019, like the ABC-7 deal, the Cubs have indicated a desire to create their own network, if possible, sooner than that (because the franchise-changing money won’t come (if at all) until then). How that would work with these rights deals, as well as the CSN deal, is not entirely clear, but there could be opt-outs in place (and, even if not, things can be negotiated).
As for these 45 games, I’ve addressed the implications of the return to local WGN – not WGN America – before:
For local Chicagoans, if Spiegel’s report is correct, you will notice no difference from last year [ed. – That’s on these 45 games and the CSN games. We didn’t know about the ABC-7 deal yet]. For those outside of Chicago, however, remember that WGN America – the cable channel – is ditching the superstation in favor of a full-on cable network, and they don’t really want to carry Cubs games anymore. This will be a particular problem for those who live in the MLB.tv blackout region for Cubs games, but who don’t get WGN-9’s local Chicago channel. Take it up with MLB’s territorial restrictions and control over streaming – it’s been good for business and good for local TV deals, but not so good for all fans.
Given WGN America’s decision to drop Chicago sports, and given the CSN cable exclusivity, this was always going to happen (unless the Cubs put all of the games on CSN, which I’m not sure CSN was even interested in). It’s a bummer, but it’s the reality of a complicated situation.
For those of you in the blackout region who don’t receive local Chicago channels, there’s a chance that your own local affiliates will work out a deal with WGN-9 and ABC-7 to carry those games (you’ll still have to figure out a way to get CSN, but that was always the case). We don’t yet have any details on that, and it might not come until the season is very close.
For those of you outside of the Chicago blackout region, the only difference you’ll notice in 2015 is no games on WGN America – but that was already the case, because of WGN America’s decision to become a full cable channel. Your MLB.tv or Extra Innings coverage, if you choose to go that route, will be the same.
Once the deal is officially announced, we’ll hopefully get a sense of the terms to see if the Cubs did any better for themselves on these new deals than the old, very-WGN-friendly agreement. It seems unlikely, at least in terms of guaranteed rights fees. Perhaps the Cubs will have carved out some revenue-sharing for themselves if the team proves to generate much better ratings than they have in recent years.
Remember, though: opting out of the agreement with WGN was about lining up the rights for all of the Cubs’ games after 2019. If the Cubs hadn’t opted out when they did, the old WGN deal would have run through 2022, and setting up their own network (and getting the huge rights deal for the full slate of games) could have taken several years longer.