We’ve been eagerly awaiting Cubs TV network news for months now, as the team and broadcast partner Sinclair worked to build out the infrastructure of the Marquee Sports Network in advance of its planned February launch.
A significant part of the news we’ve wanted to see? The network coming to terms with satellite and cable providers in the Cubs’ geographic footprint to carry the channel next year. Not only is that important in generating much of the revenue that makes this whole theoretical endeavor worthwhile for the organization, but it’s also critically important – DUH – in making sure Cubs fans can see the Cubs play next year.
To that end, huge news today, as Sinclair just announced that they’ve reached long-term carriage deals with AT&T/DIRECTV for a bevy of their affiliated networks, including Marquee:
“Sinclair Broadcast Group, Inc. (Nasdaq: SBGI), and AT&T have agreed on a multi-year agreement across DIRECTV, AT&T TV and U-verse for continued carriage of Sinclair’s owned local broadcast stations and Tennis Channel, for future carriage of Marquee Sports Network, a regional sports network featuring games of the Chicago Cubs launching in 2020, as well as for the 21 RSN brands Sinclair recently acquired and the YES Network, in which Sinclair is a joint-venture partner.”
Obviously there are no details yet, but we’ll be curious to know just how much Marquee is charging for its channel (that will have a dramatic impact not only on revenue, but on how widely the channel can realistically be distributed), and also how large the footprint is for this particular carriage deal. How large will the Chicago area be? Will it cover the entire blackout territory designated by MLB (most of Illinois, all of Iowa, some of Wisconsin, and most of Indiana)? More? Less? (Note: folks outside of the Cubs’ blackout territory will still be able to get games on MLB.tv as always.)
Even not knowing those details, we can say this is excellent news for Marquee, as getting a carriage deal in place here in October for a February launch – and now being able to present that to other providers (“Hey, Comcast, you don’t want to lose Cubs fans to AT&T or DIRECTV do you?”) – is a tremendous first step.
Similarly, having this deal in place BEFORE the offseason is definitely going to help provide additional confidence that the whole thing won’t be such a fiasco come February that the organization absolutely must hold the purse strings tightly until next year. To be sure, I am not saying this deal means *anything* definitive one way or another. I’m saying only that, if carriage negotiations were going horribly and no deals were getting made, it’s possible the Cubs’ business side would have had to tell the baseball side that they might have to brace for some especially lean years. We have never expected that to be the case, but this is just a nice additional whiff that it won’t be.
Moreover, notice that this was all one big bundled announcement? That means, precisely as expected (and no doubt calculated by the Cubs), Sinclair was able to leverage its place at the center of nearly 200 local TV stations, the former FOX RSNs it just purchased, the Yankees’ YES Network, the Tennis Channel, and the Cubs’ Marquee Sports Network to get carriage for ALL of them. No piecemeal negotiations, which really puts the providers’ backs up against the wall. Imagine a provider that feels like it absolutely, positively must have the YES Network available in New York and FOX Sports Arizona, but only barely kinda sorta wants the rest. Tough noogies. Sign ’em all, or get none of them.
This is precisely the kind of leverage the Cubs were seeking when partnering with Sinclair, and it is also the reason it was such huge news when Sinclair landed the FOX RSNs and part of the YES Network. That YES Network deal also includes Amazon as a partner, which could mean even more interesting distribution options down the road for the Cubs.
Among the other major providers the Cubs and Sinclair will need to lock down in the Chicago area? Comcast, DISH, Spectrum, RCN, and WOW. Stay tuned on that front.