We've been talking a lot about the Cubs/WGN-TV deal over the last couple of days. It occurs to me that we might be the only fanbase that obsesses this much over which television channel will carry our favorite team's games.
Much of this, of course, is because the Cubs have a significant part of this fanbase that has no particular connection to Chicago. You're the ones who grew up somewhere else, watching the Cubs on cable TV. Apart from the Atlanta Braves -- who never had the sort of love that came from Cubs fans -- no other team had this sort of national exposure. (No, not even the Mets, whose WWOR-TV games were carried on cable outside of New York; that carriage wasn't nearly as widespread as WGN's or TBS's.)
"WGN has the ability to retain those rights through 2O19, provided that they're willing to pay fair market value," said Cubs spokesman Julian Green. "That's a discussion for WGN and the Cubs to have together." Based on the $6O million revenue fee for combined broadcast rights, the Cubs get about $4OO,OOO per game, far below the market value potentially set by the Dodgers. Under their reported new deal, the Dodgers will be getting about $28O million per year, or about $1.8 million per game.
Now, does this mean the Cubs will hold out for a Dodgers-like deal, which is more than four times what they currently get? Perhaps not, although certainly Cubs broadcast rights are worth far more than $400,000 per game.
Green's statement is interesting for another reason. He said "through 2019", which implies that the Cubs definitely want to go another way after their deal with CSN Chicago expires after that season. The Tribune link above notes:
Experts say there are plenty of options to improve on the current deal, including the possibility of upfront payments that secure partial rights through 2019, and a full standalone network beginning in 2020.
This makes a great deal of sense. For their part, Tribune Company definitely wants to keep skin in this game:
"WGN-TV has enjoyed a tremendous relationship with the Cubs and their fans since 1948," Tribune Co. spokesman Gary Weitman said in a statement Monday. "It is a relationship that we are proud of, and one that brings Cubs baseball to fans throughout Chicago and across the country. We're looking forward not only to the upcoming 2O13 season, but also to working with the Cubs on baseball broadcasts in the future."
Because of the long relationship -- it will be in its 66th season this year, the longest continuous relationship between a TV station and a sports team anywhere in the world -- it does make a lot of sense for both parties to come to a deal. I suspect that eventually, they will, and you'll see Cubs games on WGN-TV for at least the next seven years.
Perhaps by 2020, Major League Baseball will get its head out of the 1970s sand it's stuck in and lift regional blackouts; that way, if the Cubs do go their own way and start their own network, games would still be available by subscription, on whatever electronic devices people are using seven years from now.