Could Cubs TV Games Wind Up On A Fox Channel In 2015?

Jeff Hanisch-US PRESSWIRE

There are new rumors surrounding the WGN-TV portion of the Cubs' television rights deal.

As you know, the WGN-TV portion of the Cubs' TV deal expires at the end of 2014, while the CSN Chicago portion runs through 2019. Patrick Mooney of CSN Chicago reports on an interesting possibility for the WGN-TV portion:
Behind the scenes, sources say the Cubs are in talks with Fox about their broadcasting future, working on a deal that would end the WGN connection that built the team’s national brand and potentially lay the groundwork for a second regional sports network in Chicago.

The Cubs are locked into WGN for one more season, and Comcast SportsNet Chicago has exclusive cable rights through 2019. So one concept being discussed is a bridge deal that would put X-number of games on a local Fox affiliate during that five-year window, before taking the full schedule to a new channel in 2020.
There's only one possibility for the meaning of "local Fox affiliate", since as noted, CSN Chicago has exclusive cable rights, and beyond that, there isn't a Fox Sports cable channel in Chicago anyway. That would have to be WFLD-TV, Fox-32, the over-the-air affiliate of the Fox network. How WFLD would fit Cubs games into their schedule, which is pretty well packed with local news and Fox network programming, is a puzzle to me. I would assume that they're talking about the 60 games now on WGN-TV, although some of those could move to CSN. Here's Theo Epstein talking about the TV deal:
“The story of the journey of the Chicago Cubs towards their first world championship in over a century is compelling,” Epstein said. “It’s going to be on your TV screen every day.

“The biggest factor in all this is that there’s less and less content on TV that you need to see each day without DVR-ing. So what makes baseball attractive to TV networks is the fact that you have to watch it each night if you’re a fan. You can’t tape a game and watch it two weeks later. It’s already outdated. You can’t speed through the commercials. It’s daily content. And what’s better content than the Chicago Cubs crawling their way to a World Series title?

“You would want to buy stock in the Cubs’ TV rights.”
That's obviously a sales pitch, and I'm not sure I would have used the word "crawling", because it implies that this isn't going very quickly. You know that's the case and I know that's the case, but if you're trying to pitch your product to a broadcaster for a large rights fee, would you say that? I wonder if the potential rights fee the Cubs can get for the WGN-TV portion of the schedule has been reduced because of the poor play the last couple of years. Ratings are down, and thus any buyer has to think that ad rates would be down. Sure, if the team gets better, those ratings and rates will go up -- but can you sell hope to a TV rights buyer? That's the big question Theo & Co., and the business side of the team, have to answer. While the scenario posited in Mooney's article is possible, it's certainly still possible for the Cubs to wind up with five more years on WGN-TV. There's one final cautionary tale in Mooney's article:
One skeptical cable official put it this way: The Cubs can’t put up a Jumbotron, and they want to start their own TV network?

As always, we await developments.

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