I Want to Talk About Cubs TV Broadcasts
Back in 2019, I did a Cubs postgame show called “Outside the Ivy” with Luis Medina and Danny Rocket on NBC Sports Chicago. Immediately after our first show, Phil Rosenthal absolutely TORCHED us in The Chicago Tribune with an article titled “20 Questions After the Debut of Outside the Ivy.” Spoiler alert, the “questions” were, uh, not about when and where he could get more of us.
None of the criticism was unfair, mind you. That’s just part of the privilege of being put in front of a camera. But, I mean … I can’t say it didn’t suck to experience. We worked hard on our show and thought we did a good job. We weren’t owed a positive review, but it definitely took the wind out of our sails from the jump. We’re all still people, after all. And I wanted everyone to like us.
I bring all of this up today, because I have a few thoughts on the Chicago Cubs broadcast hosted primarily by Jon “Boog” Sciambi and Jim Deshaies, two guys I absolutely adore on a personal and professional level. I am not here to rip them — or Marquee, in general — for what they put together. I don’t think there’s any value in doing that.
I am here, however, to offer some constructive criticism as a Cubs fan who watches every single game and listens to every single broadcast Marquee puts together.
I understand the very fact of doing a post like this is going to come across negatively. And the timing of a post like this — following an absolutely brutal two weeks of baseball, capped off with two horrible losses to the Cardinals — is necessarily going to invite even more ire. But it’s a subject that has been on my mind lately, maybe just because we’re deep enough into the season to have some thoughts crystalizing.
OK. Enough throat-clearing. Here are some comments on the Chicago Cubs in-game broadcast put together by Marquee Sports Network.
Baseball Is Regional, It’s OK to Act Like It
Unlike the NFL – or even the NBA, to a lesser extent – Major League Baseball is an extremely regional sport. By that I mean the people watching a Marquee Sports Network broadcast of a Chicago Cubs game are going to be overwhelmingly Cubs fans. I don’t think it’s too much to ask for 10% more homerism in the broadcast.
Personally, I want my broadcasters to get a little mad when things go wrong. And I want them to be ecstatic when the Cubs come up in a big moment. I do not need them to be unbiased mediators of balance and cool 100% of the time. Who didn’t love hearing Len Kasper’s voice crack with excitement when he’d shout about a huge Cubs home run? I know I did.
Certainly, I understand that the pendulum can swing too far in the other direction, and I’m not looking for that!
I don’t want inauthenticity, and I REALLY don’t want Hawk Harrelson-level stuff. But I also often feel complete detachment to the broadcast when, for example, the Cubs blow a game against the Cardinals in the 9th inning after losing to the Cardinals the day before after losing in extra innings the day before that and there’s no audible disappointment or frustration in the broadcaster’s delivery or message (let alone any questioning of the decisions being made on a game-to-game basis).
Maybe I wouldn’t want to listen to Rick Sutcliffe call every single Cubs game, but I do enjoy the way he actually gets into the game when he joins the booth for those West Coast games. His exasperation is cathartic and his joy is palpable for fans that feel the same way he does in those big moments. More of that.
A Little Less Production, Please
Maybe this will confuse more than help, because the in-game stories and packages are often really interesting and well-produced in isolation. I like many of them and want them to stay.
But there’s just way too many.
I know baseball is trying to reach a broader audience, and maybe this is the only way to get non-hardcore baseball fans engaged, but I’m sorry … I’m trying to watch a baseball game. And we’re just constantly being interrupted by pre-planned anecdotes and interviews, sometimes even about players on THE OTHER TEAM.
And with the new rules, games are already shortened by ~30 minutes, so the same volume of any “non-game” feature is actually gobbling up a higher proportion of the overall broadcast.
This all goes, I suspect, to the network’s desire to deliver what they consider “national-level” broadcast quality, but it’s just not working in its current form.
Actually, Less is More
As a matter of fact, there’s just too much going on in general.
I don’t mind the rotating cast of broadcasters – everyone has a little something different to offer, and that can be fun. But when there’s three voices in the booth at the same time *PLUS* contributions from Taylor McGregor and/or Elise Menaker from the field (also great individually), it is overwhelming and distracting. Sometimes, the crowding is visual in addition to auditory.
There is definitely an argument to be made that less might just be more when it come to the Marquee broadcast.
… But More Play-by-Play
I know TV isn’t radio, so this isn’t to say Sciambi needs to call a game the same way Pat Hughes does on 670 The Score, nor should he. Television is a combined medium, and the pictures are indeed there on the screen for folks to see. But if you were to close your eyes and just listen to the Marquee broadcast, you’d often have absolutely no idea what’s going on. Basically, I think I want more play-by-play. I want to know more about what’s going on RIGHT NOW, in that very moment. Heck, I want to be able to walk into the kitchen for a second and still be tuned into the actual game.
You can still tell a story if it applies, but maybe fewer of the anecdotes that are just kind of generally about the guy at the plate or pitcher on the mound. I’m sure his path to the majors, the cleats he’s wearing, or that time he played in the WBC is fascinating. But you have an entire network and website (loaded with talented content creators) to dive deeper on that stuff for the people that want it as a complement to the TV broadcast, rather than a core element.
Oh, and you also have two brilliant baseball minds — Jim Deshaies and Jon Sciambi — available to analyze the game, itself. LET THEM COOK. I’d greatly prefer to hear them opine on the play/managerial decisions at hand than their favorite walk-up songs or which Marvel character each Cubs player represents (okay, that one is an exaggeration, but that’s the vibe it often gives). Sometimes — not all the time, but sometimes — the broadcast plays like a podcast occurring simultaneously to a Cubs game.
We Need HD Broadcasts
The Marquee Sports app does not stream in 1080p, let alone 4K like the Apple TV+ broadcast. So if you’re like me, someone who has a cable subscription, but prefers to stream the broadcast on their AppleTV using the official Marquee Sports Network app, you’re watching the game in what (I’ve confirmed to be) 720p. You know, like it’s 2008.
What’s even more frustrating is that if you are out of the market streaming the same exact Marquee broadcast through your MLB.TV subscription, you’re getting the game in full HD. Why, then, are these being broadcast in such low quality over streaming devices in 2023?*
*I’ve been informed that Marquee is, in fact, streaming in 720p and that they are aware that it is less than ideal. They are working on upgrading that streaming quality to 1080p and are optimistic about that change occurring soon.
We Need a Standalone Marquee Streaming Service
And finally, but perhaps most importantly: we need a standalone Marquee Streaming service available to the ever-increasing number of fans that want to cut ties with their cable company. Right now, there are thousands of people paying ridiculous cable bills ONLY for the ability to watch the Cubs.
That’s just not the way it should be nowadays, and it’s potentially doing long-term damage to the franchise.
I have had SO MANY people (multiple just in the last week!) tell me they have never felt more disconnected to the Cubs than they do right now, because they’re not willing to pay an extra $70-$80/month to Xfinity or RCN (or whomever) just to watch the Cubs. I understand that this is a complicated endeavor, weaving in the league and massive cable service providers contracts, that could cost the Cubs millions in short-term dollars. But the long-term impact of alienating large sections of your fanbase by not letting them watch the Cubs has to be worse.
Create a streaming product, charge a monthly subscription fee, and give people the option to watch your product the way everyone watches everything else in 2023. I know there have been a lot of public statements about this kind of product being worked on, but it is badly needed sooner rather than later.
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Final Note: To be perfectly clear, these are all merely suggestions based on my personal preferences. There are a lot of different types of Cubs fans out there who may disagree with some or all of what I said above. Totally acknowledged. Furthermore, calling a Cubs game – and producing a network – is hard work with challenges most of us will never understand. I could not do what any of these very talented people do and this is not a shot at any one of them, individually. I mean that.