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Bob Brenly's Departure And WGN's Cubs Deal

The former Cubs broadcaster told the Tribune why he left the team last fall. That opens a big, big can of worms regarding the Cubs' future television home.

Courtesy Len Kasper

We all followed the story of Bob Brenly's departure from the Cubs' broadcast booth last fall; Bob landed on his feet with an identical job with the Diamondbacks, and I think Len Kasper and the Cubs will be fine with the addition of Jim Deshaies as Len's partner.

Saturday, a Paul Sullivan article in the Tribune revealed the real reason behind Brenly's leaving for the Valley of the Sun:

"It was unbelievably tough to leave," Brenly said Saturday during a visit to Cubs camp, where his son, Michael is a non-roster invitee. "Long story short, we thought we had a deal done, and actually went out and celebrated with my family and ran up a pretty good tab at Joe’s (Stone Crabs).

"Woke up the next morning and there were some issues with the contract. One thing led to another and that kind of opened up negotiations with the Diamondbacks and it rolled downhill quickly. The Diamondbacks were willing to give me the years and the money that WGN and Comcast (Sports Net) could just not guarantee. Not a bad Plan B."

The Cubs could not guarantee Brenly more than two years because they plan to open up bidding rights to games next year. The contract with their longtime home, WGN-TV, expires after 2O14, and the Cubs figure to cash in after the Los Angeles Dodgers reportedly reached an agreement with Time Warner Cable on a deal expected to be worth $7 billion to $8 billion over 25 years.

So. It wasn't anything about money, nor any dissatisfaction with Bob's work, but the fact that Brenly wanted a deal longer than two years -- certainly not unreasonble, given his popularity -- but since Len and Bob work for WGN, not the Cubs, there was no way to give him that, considering this article seems to indicate the Cubs might not re-up with WGN.

WGN-TV has broadcast Cubs games since 1948 -- as far as I can tell, that's the longest uninterrupted run for any team on any single television station, entering their 66th consecutive season. Since the late 1990s, the number of games carried on WGN has been reduced from a full season's complement to about 60 per year. Those games are still considered "gold" by many Cubs fans -- I know there are a lot of you right here -- who don't live in Chicago and who depend on getting WGN America on your basic cable subscription (or on a tier that doesn't cost too much beyond basic) to see the Cubs.

It probably won't last. With Tribune Company coming out of bankruptcy and under new management -- including a new president of local broadcasting for its 23 local stations -- WGN-TV no longer has the historic connection to Cubs baseball that it once did.

You can't blame the Cubs for wanting to "cash in", as Sullivan put it, as a contract expires for about 40 percent of its total broadcast schedule. Where could these games go?

They could stay with WGN -- that move would surely be popular with Cubs fans everywhere -- but it might cost far more than WGN and Tribune are willing to pay. They could move all the games to Comcast Sportsnet, where the Cubs have a deal that runs through 2019. Not only would that anger out-of-town Cubs fans who would then have to pay for a MLB.TV or MLB Extra Innings subscription to see the team (and possibly still be blacked out anyway), but since CSN is co-owned by the White Sox, Bulls and Blackhawks, Cubs games could be in conflict with games of the other teams, particularly in April and May; some games could be relegated to CSN Plus. That's a scenario none of the teams want.

So even though the Cubs might want to -- and might be able to -- "cash in", as teams like the Dodgers, Angels, Rangers and others have done, they'll have to tread carefully to avoid alienating a big chunk of the fanbase.

We do indeed live in interesting times.