The Chicago Cubs have exercised an option to get out of their broadcast contract with WGN-TV after the 2014 season, sources close to the situation said Wednesday. On Tuesday, the team notified the Tribune Co.-owned station it had 30 days to meet a higher assessed fair market value for the broadcast rights, or they would be opened up for negotiation with other media. A third-party consultant hired by the Cubs and WGN-TV determined the increased valuation, according to sources. After 30 days, the team would be free to explore other broadcast options for about 70 games televised each season by WGN, opening the door to a potentially more lucrative contract or perhaps its own cable sports network.
This was expected to happen, as the Cubs are looking for a higher annual value from the games that are now on WGN-TV. As noted above, that comes to a little less than half the schedule. Channick's article further says:
The Cubs get about $20 million to air 70 games each year on WGN. If the team didn’t give notice to opt out at this point in the contract, the deal would run through 2022 at the current rate, and the Cubs would lose any leverage for renegotiating the broadcast rights, according to sources.
So, obviously, the Cubs took the leverage they had and opted out. This doesn't mean they won't sign a deal to stay with WGN; it all depends on the station and Tribune Company's desire to keep the games. The $20 million rights fee comes to about $286,000 per game -- far less than the approximately $1.6 million the Dodgers are getting in their new TV deal. Los Angeles is a bigger TV market than Chicago and the Dodgers are a better team right now, but you can clearly see why the Cubs are looking to make quite a bit more from that portion of the deal.
My guess -- and it's nothing more than speculation on my part -- is that the Cubs and WGN-TV will re-up through 2019, when the team's deal with CSN Chicago ends. At that point, the Cubs will be able to bid all their games (save those nationally televised on ESPN or Fox) to one bidder, or possibly start their own network.
It's been a great run for the Cubs on WGN-TV. If the relationship sticks through 2019, that will make 72 seasons of Cubs baseball on one channel, the longest such relationship in baseball history. But it's likely doomed in the long run due to the changing TV landscape.