It could be the hot start, it could be the fans starved for entertainment, it could be the anticipation or a probably-decent-team-with-a-new-manager, or it could be the interest in checking out the new network (once it got the carriage in place).
Whatever the reason, the Cubs’ TV ratings are waaaay up this year, as they come in 40% better than last year:
Biggest YOY upticks: Astros (+97%), the Los Angeles Dodgers, who are benefiting from the increased distribution now that SportsNet LA is on DirecTV (+95%), the Chicago White Sox (+61%), and Texas Rangers (+52%) via @ForbesSports https://t.co/YiB6iDfoe4
— Maury Brown (@BizballMaury) August 6, 2020
When you consider that the teams on top had flukey carriage changes, and the White Sox got a huge boost from a couple pre-Marquee exhibition games with the Cubs, then the Cubs’ ratings jump is right up there among the best in baseball (9th highest overall). The average increase for all teams was 17% over last year, so that’s your overall sense of the “my God we’re so desperate for baseball to be back” bump. Clearly, the interest in the Cubs was even higher than that.
With the Cubs’ payout for their TV rights tied to Marquee’s overall success (to say nothing of the Ricketts Family’s ownership stake in Marquee, which could theoretically provide additional cash flow to the organization long-term if the channel is successful), what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. When the ratings are strong at Marquee, that’s going to have a trickling effect on the Cubs baseball operations’ financial flexibility. To be sure, I still believe the financial impact of the pandemic is going to be brutal for teams – and will provide a reason for slashed budgets heading into 2021 – but the picture would’ve been much, much darker if Marquee was tracking as an early flop.
So far, clearly, the channel is doing very well when it comes to Cubs games. And, as the Forbes article notes – and previous reports suggested – networks like Marquee have had little trouble selling out their ad inventory for the year already, so it’s likely that whatever is happening now with the ratings will only help the network’s efforts next year.
Also, since the world is changing, this will become increasingly notable in the years ahead:
MLB has set digital viewing records with users streaming more games for longer times than any 14-day period on record. SBD's story: https://t.co/zss4OlNVDy
— John Ourand (@Ourand_SBJ) August 7, 2020
For now, the Cubs and Marquee conveyed the in-market streaming rights to the carriers who pick up the network (i.e., you have to be an authenticated subscriber to a cable provider that has Marquee in order to stream the games). But it’s not hard to imagine, long-term, the Cubs deciding they would rather retain those rights and sell them a la carte to in-market users. Some day.