Show Me The (TV) Money

Gordon Wittenmyer in the Sun-Times writes about something we've all wondered about -- the Cubs' TV deals:

Sources say the Cubs expect to begin discussions with WGN at the end of this year on a contract set to expire after the 2014 season. Executives considered the deal below market value before the recent boom. The team’s contract with CSN, which broadcasts roughly half the games, runs through 2019.

Wittenmyer reports that the Cubs' combined annual take from the WGN and CSN deals is about $45 million -- which pales next to some of the new and existing deals recently signed by other teams, including the $150 million a year the Rangers are now getting from FSN Southwest, and the reported $75 million a year the Padres are getting in a just-signed local TV contract.

There's no question that the Cubs, with a national fanbase that has rabid interest in the team even in down times and hope for the future with new management, could reap far more than $45 million a year in the open market, even during recessionary times. Somehow, TV rights deals seem immune to economic downturns; the NFL just signed a huge new TV deal worth somewhere north of $3 billion to the league through 2022.

It doesn't seem out of the realm of possibility that the Cubs could get what the Rangers are getting -- $150 million a year -- or more, if they could sell their rights on the open market. Wittenmyer's article suggests the Cubs might want to re-up their deal with WGN if they could get a lot more money out of it. Whether WGN, still owned by Tribune Co., which has yet to wrap up its bankruptcy filing, would be willing to pay top dollar for about 40% of the Cubs' schedule, is anyone's guess.

More likely, the Cubs might wind up with all their games on CSN, although that would create conflicts with White Sox telecasts. Both teams own a 25% stake in the channel; when games conflict, as they sometimes do, a second CSN channel is used (CSN Chicago Plus) so that both teams' games can be carried. That could be the impetus for the Cubs to create their own TV channel after 2014; channels like that (YES Network, SNY, NESN) that are either wholly-owned or majority-owned by the teams, have led to lucrative revenue streams.

If the Cubs can take that $45 million annual figure and add $100 million or more to it, that could be a game-changer for the Cubs to compete for high-priced free agents, or to develop their own players and lock them up to long-term deals.

It'll be must-see TV. We hope, anyway.

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