With the Chicago Cubs and partner Sinclair launching the Marquee Sports Network in February as the exclusive home of local Cubs games, now is the critical period of time when the Cubs must secure carriage agreements with the various cable and satellite partners.
The Cubs reportedly plan to price the channel aggressively, and Business President Crane Kenney has already indicated that the negotiations on carriage deals might go down to the wire. Having Sinclair’s weight behind them (the threat of blocking their other RSNs (the former Fox ones), or all of their local broadcast stations) is going to help the Cubs, to be sure, but the greatest asset will always have to be the fact that the Cubs can draw lots of eyeballs. More eyeballs means more consumers willing to absorb the added monthly cost to their cable bill, and fewer of them deciding to cut the cord. (For now.)
So, then, it would be nice if the Cubs could show, even in their first non-playoff year in five years, that they still dominate the local ratings.
Aaaand … they do, relative to other programming and other sports, but it wasn’t necessarily a great year:
As @Cubs begin negotiations with cable/satellite companies over the price of their new network to subscribers, an inconvenient truth emerges: Ratings were down more than 5% for this year's disappointing squad https://t.co/sHRR47RXMf
— Steve Daniels (@stevedaniels27) October 2, 2019
Some silver linings in that Crain’s report, though? The stuff the Cubs and Sinclair would point to? For one thing, ratings this year were still better than 2017, the year after the World Series win. For another thing, ratings this year were still significantly higher than in 2015, when the rebuild finally started to bear fruit.
So maybe this year’s dip really isn’t any kind of crushing blow?
Very interestingly, the Crain’s report indicates Marquee will be seeking only a (relatively) modest $4-per-subscriber-per-month carriage fee, which is considerably lower than the previous reports of about $6. If that’s true, the Cubs might be going for maxing out the size of their channel’s subscriber base, rather than maxing out the take on each subscriber. And if that’s true, having seen what happened in Los Angeles and Houston with their RSN fiascos, I would say: THAT IS AN EXTREMELY GOOD IDEA, CUBS. YES, DO THAT.
Maxing out your take on the carriage rate always struck me as a dodgy tack at a time when consumers are looking for any excuse possible to ditch their cable bill altogether. And having your fans – especially non-hardcore fans – still able to access your games, even if it means a little less TV revenue, is a smart long-term approach. Let’s remember: having your games on TV isn’t solely about generating immediate revenue, it’s also about preserving your brand and your entertainment business for decades to come.
Let’s hope the rating dip doesn’t give the cable and satellite operators too much ammo, or that the Cubs don’t draw too aggressive of a line. Sure, I want to see the Cubs bringing in as much revenue as possible to support baseball operations, but my number one priority – and what I believe the organization’s number one priority should be – is making sure that the most Cubs fans possible in the Chicago area (with as large a footprint as permissible by MLB) have easy Day One access to Marquee.