Cubs Broadcast Contracts: Are Deals Getting Close?

Courtesy WGN-TV

We could be within a few weeks of learning where Cubs baseball will be carried on radio and TV going forward.

As you know, the Cubs' contracts with WGN-TV (continuous since 1948) and WGN radio (continuous since 1957, and a relationship that goes back to 1925) are both expiring at the end of the 2014 season, and negotiations have been going on all winter on both deals.

Lewis Lazare of Chicago Business Journal reports that agreements on both of these deals might be close. For radio:

Tribune Co. could still be an option the Cubs consider for both radio and television broadcasts, sources say there is a growing possibility the CBS Radio cluster in Chicago could be a serious bidder, as well, for the radio rights. Right now, the likely outlet for Cubs games in the CBS Radio stable locally would be all-news WBBM-AM (780), which is simulcast on the FM dial at 105.9.

What I've heard goes back and forth on the radio deal. First I heard that WGN was going to re-up; then it was WBBM. This seems like posturing on the part of the Cubs to get a larger rights fee, as Lazare points out:

But for the deal to be really valuable for CBS Radio and WBBM-AM, the Cubs would have to morph into a much better team than they are at this moment. The thinking in local sports circles, however, is that the Cubs could be a contender in two years or so as talented players in the team's farm system move up and on to the Cubs roster. But the Cubs have disappointed before. And they could disappoint again.

As I've written before, it's hard to sell "hope" to a broadcast rightsholder when the current state of the team means that ratings are down both on the radio and TV side. Speaking of TV:

Fox-owned WFLD-Channel 32 may be the frontrunner, though Channel 9 isn't entirely ruled out either. The Fox network has always coveted sports content. And money is certainly no object to Fox and the Rupert Murdoch clan. That fact alone could certainly make the Fox network an attractive partner for the Cubs and the Ricketts family that owns the team.

This doesn't really say much; saying one "may be the frontrunner" while the other "isn't entirely ruled out" makes it sound like a 50-50 proposition. What I've heard is that WGN-TV is likely to re-up for the next five years -- even if that's only on WGN-TV locally and not on WGN America, which is certainly a possibility.

Lazare's article says we could know "in the next two or three weeks," but I've heard that before; originally, I heard an announcement would be made on or around Opening Day, which is now more than a week in the rear-view mirror.

For many of you who live outside Chicago, games will still be available online via MLB Audio or MLB.TV, or on MLB Extra Innings. It will simply cost more if they're not on WGN America, and of course there are those pesky blackout areas, particularly in Iowa. This is something the next commissioner is going to have to address, I believe. In the Chicago area, if the Cubs do swap TV or radio partners, it just means a different button to press.

If I had to guess right now, I think WGN and the Cubs will re-up. That's strictly a guess, though.

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