Last night, we were all thrilled to watch the Chicago Bears beat the Minnesota Vikings in prime time, bumping their playoff odds up to nearly 90% (yup … they’re the 2015 Chicago Cubs, turning a corner a year early on the strength of a few key free agent pickups, a huge addition through trade, and one awesome second-overall draft pick).
But almost as cool as the win itself, was the game’s bump up to prime time (7:00 PM CT) from an original and far less-featured noon start. That decision demonstrated that the league and the country had their eyes on the Bears and this matchup, which is great for exposure, enthusiasm, and the general feeling around the team. Basically, if your team is flexed into high-profile broadcasts often enough, you’re probably on the right track.
Well, the Chicago Cubs are in a similar situation, and have been for a few years now. They bring a lot of eyeballs for a national audience, and ESPN just announced their early-season slate of games, which includes three Cubs games in the first week:
- Sunday, March 31st: Cubs at Rangers (3:00 CT)
- Monday, April 1st: Cubs at Braves (6:00 CT)
- Wednesday, April 3rd: Cubs at Braves (6:00 CT)
If you’re keeping track at home, that means that ESPN just gobbled up three of the Cubs’ first five games in order to broadcast them in front of a national audience. And, sure, the Braves are an up-and-coming NL powerhouse, but they don’t have quite the same pull the Cubs do, and the Texas Rangers are pretty openly in the middle of a rebuild. The Cubs are popular, and that’s swell. I mean, consider the fact that of the 14 early-season games ESPN just announced, the Cubs are in 21% of them.
And if you’re thinking 14 games is a lot, so a ton of teams must have gotten the call, think again. The Yankees, Dodgers, and Cubs are involved with 9 of those 14 contests:
Orioles at Yankees
Diamondbacks at Dodgers
Red Sox at Mariners
Braves at Phillies
Cubs at Rangers
Cardinals at Pirates
White Sox at Indians
Cubs at Braves
Giants at Dodgers
Cubs at Braves
Dodgers at Rockies
Yankees at Astros
Blue Jays at Red Sox
Astros at Yankees
I don’t think I need to tell anybody what’s good about being included in a group with the Yankees and Dodgers. Indeed, they’re the only three teams with three games picked up apiece. With a new TV deal still being ironed out (it’s still being ironed out … right?) this is a great signal to the market: the Cubs are in the *elite* tier of broadcast rights, so pay up or shut up or something.
It’s also worth noting that both the Dodgers and the Yankees are among the teams with their own regional sports network, something which the Cubs still appear keen to create. ESPN picking up those games won’t likely have much of an effect on any final deal, but it does help build some reference points in for the rest of us.