In one week, the Chicago Cubs will open up their 2020 season. Without fans in attendance, the game will be, more than ever, all about the ability to watch games on TV.
And yet for Cubs fans in the Chicago area, watching Cubs games this year is not yet a sure thing.
Although the Cubs and their partner in Marquee Sports Network, Sinclair, have secured carriage agreements with a variety of providers throughout the team’s region (Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, and a little of Wisconsin), you know the big fish that is still swimming out there: Comcast.
The large provider, which also owns a stake in NBC Sports Chicago, serves about half the homes in Chicago. To date, they haven’t come to an agreement on a monthly fee to carry Marquee, and I’m sure the pandemic – and all the uncertainty it brings – isn’t making it a simpler calculation for the two sides.
For now, the Cubs’ side of things is still expressing “confidence” and “optimism” and what-have-you:
Marquee Sports Network's general manager is confident that the channel will reach a deal with Comcast before the Cubs' regular season opens next Friday. https://t.co/BZPRFJXICx
— Sun-Times Sports (@suntimes_sports) July 17, 2020
The financial implications are obviously significant for all the parties involved here, and Sinclair’s need to get carriage from Comcast for all of its other RSNs (particularly the FOX RSNs) is another complicating factor. Even before the pandemic, this was dense stuff to try to sort out.
But for now, so close to the season, I’ll keep things very simple: if the Cubs and Sinclair are not able to secure a carriage deal with Comcast for this season, both the fans and the Cubs will lose out. Local fans who want the channel and want the games – something they haven’t had in 10 months – will lose out in a big way. And, in turn, the Cubs will lose out not only on the passed-through revenue from Marquee’s carriage deals for the next eight months or so, but they will also lose out in a fandom that has yet another huge reason to emotionally check out. That was the lesson of the Dodgers’ TV situation, right? The one the Cubs and Marquee had a half-decade on which to study up and ensure they didn’t make the same mistakes?
Again, I’m not saying the pandemic isn’t a completely unforeseeable, massively impactful fly in the ointment. And I’m certainly not going to say that Marquee and the Cubs are the “bad guy” in a contract negotiation with freaking Comcast. But my priority at the moment lies with seeing Cubs fans – loyal, passionate, baseball-starved Cubs fans – get what they deserve. They just want to be able to watch the games on their provider.
I’ll remain hopeful that a deal gets done with Comcast, if not with DISH and YouTube TV, each of which have played around with not carrying RSNs in various regions over the past year+.