Crane Kenney Speaks: Aiming for Fans at Wrigley This September, Deal with Comcast, "Sounds of Wrigley," More

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Crane Kenney Speaks: Aiming for Fans at Wrigley This September, Deal with Comcast, “Sounds of Wrigley,” More

Chicago Cubs

Earlier this morning, I called my mom on the phone, told her to flip to channel 202 on her TV, and heard yelps of joy and excitement. The Chicago Cubs new TV station, Marquee Sports Network, had finally come to terms with Comcast, representing over half of the homes in this market, just hours before the first game of the 2020 regular season. She can watch the Cubs tonight. All is well.

Speaking of which, Cubs President Crane Kenney jumped on 670 The Score this morning to discuss the deal with Comcast, the plans for the season with respect to fans at Wrigley, and a little more. Here are some of the highlights I was able to catch as he was talking. Otherwise, you can catch the interview here.

•   Although nothing was ever certain with Comcast, Kenney remained confident of a deal from the beginning. As he’s said a number of times throughout this process, these deals often require some sort of catalyst to get to the finish line and that was always going to be Opening Day for Marquee and Comcast. Speaking for myself, I think it’s fair to say that the issue felt exacerbated because Opening Day was moved back, but it seems like a deal would’ve gotten done back in March had there been no pandemic.

•   It’s also worth noting that the delay in the deal was due, in part, to something Brett has been speculating about for months: Sinclair’s other interests, namely the FOX RSNs, had deals coming up with Comcast soon, so bundling all the deals together gave them leverage (even as it likely dragged out the Marquee portion longer than folks wanted). Kenney implied this strongly in his interview, and Phil Rosenthal filled out the story not long afterwords.

•   The deal between MSN and Comcast also includes “expansion of the Cubs television market into Indianapolis and Fort Wayne,” where the team’s games were previously unavailable to NBC Sports Chicago. That seems to have been a big deal to Kenney/the Cubs, who are undoubtedly aware of the value of a bigger national footprint.

•   Kenney would not discuss the terms of the deal, with respect to revenue generation, but he did say that it was a multi-year agreement, meaning that we will not have to go through this again next season. If I recall correctly, I believe three years was the expectation at one point, but that’s not something Kenney revealed today.

•   Speaking of revenue, when asked what his next big project was going to be, Kenney seemed to imply the mere act of projecting revenue for next season was at the top of his list. Without knowing if there are going to be 0 fans or 3.5 million fans, the Cubs, and most MLB teams, are in a very tough spot in terms of projection. What that means for offseason acquisitions, we can only guess (and dread), but I just want you to be prepared for that reality. For what it’s worth, he was asked the Mookie Betts question and said that the Dodgers were fortunate to get their TV/media deal at a time when those rates were exploding. And with those higher guaranteed revenues, they’re in a rare class of teams who can afford to spend more.

•   Also, we now know that the Mookie Betts deal wasn’t quite as large as it initially seemed, thanks to a lot of interest-free deferrals:

•   As for fans in the stands, the Cubs are still prohibited by the league, but they are working on a plan to allow limited capacity this season in groups of 2, 4, and 6 fans. The hope is that they can get approval from all necessary parties (MLB, city government and health official) to be a go by September 1st. In addition to limited total capacity and groups, fans would have specific windows of time by which they can enter and exit the stadium from designated gates. There’d also be concessions brought to the seats, to prevent as much interaction as possible.

•   Said Kenney: “Absolute number one on the list is that it be safe and that we feel we can do it in a way that our fans, our staff and obviously the players would remain safe while we’re doing it.” But don’t get him wrong. It’s not all about the fans or the safety. While that may be priority number one, Kenney does mention another: “The second reason is we’re looking down the road at 2021, and we’re not sure that life will be that different next year. Anything that we can do to give us a little bit of a glimpse to see how we can operate our stadium next year this year would give us obviously a whole year to plan for it. There’s some learnings in there for us as well.”

•   It’s not likely that any limited number of fans in 30 or so home games will provide enough revenue to materially change the way this offseason plays out, but perhaps if they can play 162 games next year, with slightly more fans at Wrigley, a better process, etc., the revenue can make a difference. Not only for the Cubs, the team, but also for the many everyday workers employed by them throughout the season. Don’t lose sight of that.

•   Remember when the first couple Summer League intra-squad games were not broadcast on Marquee? Well that was actually on purpose. The Cubs still recorded those games in an attempt to learn what they could about the broadcast. What they found was that it was incredibly eerie – from those playing in the game to those watching in the stands and on TV – not to have any noise at all. To solve the problem, MLB sent them a white noise track called “sounds of the ballpark.” That helped, but it still didn’t sound enough like Wrigley, so the Cubs added a track of their own on top of it called “sounds of Wrigley.” They’re still tweaking it to get it just right, but it’s apparently helped a lot.

•   They’ve also put mics on the base lines, to hear more from the players during the game, in addition to louder bat swings, mitt pops, etc.

Author: Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami covers the Chicago Cubs, Bears, and Bulls at Bleacher Nation. You can find him on Twitter @Michael_Cerami