Chicago Cubs President of Business Operations Crane Kenney was on The Score to talk about a variety of pressing business issues, including Wrigley Field renovations, the facilities in Arizona, and the concert lineup at Wrigley (or lack thereof). You can listen to his full interview here, or at the bottom of this post in the embed. For me, I specifically want to touch on TV issues.
As you know, the Cubs have partnered with Sinclair to create a new RSN, the Marquee Sports Network, which will launch for Spring Training 2020. Having announced the network, though, is really just the start of the work in getting things off the ground, as Kenney, himself, said in the interview.
Some notes …
- Carriage is always going to be the huge question as the channel gets up and going: how many providers will actually carry Marquee, and how wide will the Cubs’ footprint spread? Kenney admitted, like with the Wrigley Field work and the development of Sloan Park, there will probably be hiccups and issues along the way. The focus is on getting things right for the very long term, but Kenney wasn’t exactly promising 100% carriage on Opening Day next year. Hopefully the Cubs can avoid a nightmare situation like what has happened in Los Angeles.
- To that end, though, Kenney mentioned that the were meeting with distributors in Arizona this week, talking to them about what things they find important in retaining subscribers. Interestingly, Kenney noted that one of those distributors is YouTube TV, so that confirms that, yes, the Cubs are having talks with non-traditional providers about carrying Marquee (but note that MLB’s blackout restrictions are very likely to remain a thorny issue).
- Also, Kenney says the Cubs’ goal is to have more subscribers with their channel on Opening Day next year than have their games (via NBC Sports Chicago) right now. How could that realistically be possible? Well, it would require a really strong carriage in the Chicago area, AND expanding the Cubs’ reach for Marquee well into Indiana and Iowa, to places where NBCSC is not currently carried.
- He could not get into specifics yet, but Kenney says they are thinking about ideas to target younger fans. For example, although there will always be the traditional broadcast you know and love, but what if there was a second broadcast – same game feed, but different broadcast – which was angled more toward stats and/or gambling? Just something the Cubs might be considering.
- As for whether the channel will carry other live/local sports programming, Kenney suggested the Cubs have plenty of options – particularly college sports – if they want, but this is designed to be a Cubs channel. So they are thinking carefully about what they want to include and not include.
- Kenney says the Cubs will be launching a YouTube channel on Monday, which may give folks a look at the kinds of things they could see on Marquee – outside of the games – when the time comes. Seems a pretty smart way to tease out the channel in advance of its arrival next year. (A reminder that my offer still stands to do a “Brett Does Baseball” show, where I try to do some crazy and awesome Cubs baseball thing, showing just how hard it is, and almost certainly embarrassing and injuring myself in the process. Talk about getting subscribers, AMIRITE!?)
- The full interview: