Several months ago, there was a report that suggested the Cubs could be seeking a lofty $6 monthly carriage fee – the price per customer paid by cable and satellite providers for the right to carry a channel – for their new regional sports network, Marquee, which launches next year. (That fee, then, is generally passed on to the customer in their bill.)
According to the latest from the Chicago Tribune, that was a pretty good early guess, though the Cubs’ new channel wouldn’t necessarily be tacking quite that much onto your bill.
Robert Channick reports that users should expect their total regional sports network costs to increase from about $9 per month presently to $13 per month when Marquee is added into the mix. But because NBC Sports Chicago – the other regional sports network in the area – is losing the Cubs, their current $9 per month carriage fee is likely to decline next year. A source tells Channick that, of that new $13-ish per month total, Marquee may cost about half – $6 to $7 per month per user.
As we discussed previously, $6 per month would put the Cubs at or near the top of the market when it comes to the carriage fees for its sports network. A wrinkle to add, though, is that the price tag is for the Chicagoland area – if we were looking at an average over the entire footprint where the network is ultimately carried, the price tag might be a good bit lower (i.e., for example, if, say, Indianapolis cable stations agree to carry the channel on a sports tier, but only if they pay $3 per month instead of $6).
Interestingly, Crane Kenney has previously indicated that the Cubs’ goal is to get as large of a footprint – more carriage than before – as possible. That could potentially mean Marquee throughout Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, and parts of Wisconsin.
The price tag will be a huge factor in the geographic sprawl of carriage, as well as Marquee’s willingness to be flexible on that price tag as you get further and further away from the Chicagoland area. It’s a balance: you want to get as many carriers as possible to have your channel, but you also want the biggest price tag you can get. Having Sinclair Broadcasting as a partner in Marquee will help the Cubs in their carriage negotiations, because not only does Sinclair own a number of local stations, it will also soon own 21 Fox regional sports networks – that’s a lot of leverage to wield over cable and satellite providers across the country.
All of this carriage stuff matters greatly in terms of making sure that Marquee is a success, which in turn, matters greatly to the Cubs. For one thing, Marquee will be paying the Cubs for the rights to broadcast their games (a guaranteed annual fee that will, according to the Tribune, represent a $30 million bump over recent years). So, it matters that Marquee is a success so that revenue stream stays firmly and safely in place.
But for another thing – the big thing – Marquee is going to be jointly owned by the Cubs’ owners and Sinclair. If the network, itself, does very well (lots of subscribers paying lots of monthly fees, plus advertising revenue), that will generate a great deal of additional revenue that can theoretically be utilized by the Cubs.
So, then, when it comes to these carriage discussions and negotiations, your main rooting interests as a fan are: (1) that you’ll have access to Cubs games if you want them; and (2) that the Cubs will get all the providers in their footprint