The discussions are finally happening on a standalone Chicago Cubs streaming product, according to the New York Post.
The Cubs’ broadcast partner, Sinclair, is trying to get a standalone, direct-to-consumer streaming service off the ground this year for many of its other regional sports networks, and it sounds like a dedicated deal for the Cubs and their network, Marquee, could be coming, too:
— New York Post (@nypost) February 7, 2022
All things streaming are incredibly complex, so I don’t want to short-hand too much of this. I’d encourage you to read the Post piece for more of the detail, though I’d caution that there’s a bit of extra spiciness in there than might be warranted. Getting these kinds of direct-to-consumer streaming deals in place is going to be huge for every market, and is the best way to ensure all fans can actually watch their favorite teams. But the process of making that sausage over the next five to ten years is going to be messy.
Some instant reaction stuff while I digest:
⇒ The idea here would be that people in the Cubs broadcast area could, instead of paying a cable provider for a monthly package of channels that includes Marquee, simply sign up for the Marquee app, and pay a monthly fee to get all things Marquee (think of it like Netflix, but Cubs content, including live games). In the present environment, people OUTSIDE the Cubs broadcast area would still not be able to get live games on an app like they. They’d have to get MLB.tv like always.
⇒ Would a Cubs streaming app generate enough revenue each year to make up for what they would undoubtedly lose from cable and satellite providers that won’t want to pay as steep carriage fees anymore? Even if not, does it matter, since the cable bundle is dying a long slow death right now? Does it make sense to just bite the bullet now and create your streaming platform, even if it’s a near-term hit? Especially if Marquee’s carriage wasn’t going as well as hoped for anyway? And especially if digital providers like YouTube TV and Hulu+ Live TV are no longer going to carry Regional Sports Networks? Can you tell that my rhetorical questions are designed to say, yes, a streaming approach has been the obvious future for years, so the earlier a team can become an expert at it the better?
⇒ Note: Most MLB teams and RSNs conveyed the in-market streaming rights to the cable and satellite providers that picked up their channel (for example, Comcast pays the monthly carriage fee so they get the RSN on their package of channels *AND* they get the right to stream the channel to THEIR authenticated subscribers). That could prevent a team’s RSN from doing its own in-market direct-to-consumer streaming product until those deals expire. I believe the Cubs did convey those streaming rights with Marquee, HOWEVER I also believe they did it on a very short-term basis (that’s been a huge part of my theorizing about a Cubs Marquee standalone streaming product for years – you can only do it if you own your own network and have reserved your in-market streaming rights). I suspect that’s gotta be a significant factor in how and why the Cubs might be able to go this road before other teams.
⇒ Sinclair’s involvement is a complicating factor here, as they no doubt want Marquee as part of their planned streaming service, but it has never been clear whether Marquee would be folded in, or whether it would be its own product (because, with all appropriate love and respect to the former Fox Sports RSNs now owned by Sinclair (dubbed Bally), none carry a team quite as popular as the Cubs). The Post article makes it sound like it would be a Marquee-only streamer for $18 per month, but I think it might wind up a little more complicated than that (especially given Sinclair’s efforts to land the rights to local streaming in the NBA, another thing they’ll likely want to bundle up (note that Sinclair does not have the rights to the Bulls, so that wouldn’t be a direct impact in the Chicago market)). Then again, maybe it’s $18 per month knowing that most consumers would want it for only half the year, so it’s like trying to make $9 per month in half the time? OK, actually, I’m not going to get too hung up on the “floated” price tag referenced in the article for now.
⇒ Since out-of-market streaming rights are still controlled by MLB, it’s also not clear what exactly you’d be getting in a Sinclair streaming product – just the local games in your area? All of the games under the Sinclair banner? And if Sinclair is hoping for the latter, how does that square with MLB’s own plans to create a nationwide streamer with no blackouts?
⇒ Speaking of which, MLB is not a singular entity so much as it is the conglomeration of its teams. Don’t forget that. So whatever approach makes its teams the most money is going to be the approach it supports. If a bundled Sinclair streaming app with about half the teams in baseball – steaming nationally – made the most financial sense, MLB would be fine with it. But from everything we’ve seen and heard, MLB does not think Sinclair’s approach will be viable. So that, again, is why I would tend to think that what we’re looking at here is the Cubs truly doing their own thing with Marquee, only in-market. (Then, if and when MLB gets its plan to do a nationwide streamer with no blackouts off the ground, they can negotiate with the Cubs, Marquee, and Sinclair to fold it back in. They’d have a lot more data at that point about how this all works, or doesn’t. (Or, if Sinclair’s RSN arm goes bankrupt, as some predict it might, then MLB can slide in and buy the RSNs itself, including the half-share in Marquee (or the Cubs can just buy that half-share back (you see how complicated this gets when you go down the hypothetical, parenthetical road?))))
⇒ Hey, what if every minor league game was streamed, too? That’s not something you can realistically port over to a cable package, and right now, although you can get MiLB.tv, it can be a little cumbersome to actually see all the games you want.
⇒ Like I said, more on this soon. I have only scratched the surface on how this might all shake out given the interested parties, the technologies, the revenue-sharing, the shifting fan base, and on and on.