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What Does The Phillies' New TV Deal Mean For The Cubs?

The Philadelphia Phillies have just signed a huge new local TV contract. The Cubs are looking for one of those, too.

Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP

News item out of Philadelphia:

The Phillies and Comcast SportsNet have struck a new TV contract.

Financial terms are unknown, but sources said it is a 25-year deal. Comcast SportsNet certainly will broadcast the majority of Phillies games, but NBC10 is expected to get its share of Sunday broadcasts. WPHL will no longer carry games.

"We're pleased to confirm that NBCUniversal and Comcast SportsNet have signed a new long-term deal with the Philadelphia Phillies that will expand Comcast SportsNet's role as the Phillies' primary TV partner," Comcast said in a statement, confirming a Philadelphia Daily News report. "Although the terms of the comprehensive deal are confidential, details surrounding the 2014 schedule of games will be provided in the coming months."

Just how much money will this mean for the Phillies? A clue can be found in Wendy Thurm's FanGraphs article from last November which summarizes all 30 teams' local television contracts. The Phillies are listed under "soon-to-expire deals", with annual TV revenue of $35 million. Without knowing the exact total of their new contract, I'd have to guess it would be at least in line with recent new deals signed by the San Diego Padres ($60 million per year) or Texas Rangers ($80 million per year), and I'd lean toward the latter, because Philadelphia is a similar-sized market to Dallas-Ft. Worth (actually, a bit larger, ranking fourth overall; D-FW is fifth).

So the Phillies are likely more than doubling their annual take from television revenue. What does this mean for the Cubs, whose deal with WGN-TV is up after this year?

Thurm's article says the Cubs are taking in approximately $50 million per year from their two deals, the expiring one with WGN-TV and the CSN Chicago contract, which isn't up until 2019. Given the market size of Chicago -- about 25 percent more TV homes than Philadelphia, according to this list of markets put together by Nielsen (link opens .pdf) -- I'd think a combined $100 million per year between any new WGN-TV deal and whatever's left of the CSN contract isn't unreasonable.

The problem for the Cubs appears to be twofold: first, the CSN deal isn't likely going to be renegotiated, and second, whatever the Cubs get for the WGN-TV portion of their TV rights (whether it's WGN-TV re-upping, or that portion going to someone else) is likely to be somewhat down because the team isn't good and ratings have been down. The Cubs aren't going to get a 20-plus year contract for the WGN-TV portion of their TV rights, because what they are likely seeking is a five-year deal so that they can sell all their games in one package five years from now.

Here's one more thing to remember, via

Comcast SportsNet, which is now owned by NBCUniversal, will televise the majority of the 162-game schedule. A limited number of games will no longer appear on PHL17. Instead, Comcast SportsNet will select some weekend dates to televise on its sister station, NBC10.

Regardless of what sort of deal the Cubs make with the expiring WGN-TV portion of their TV rights, we are likely headed, either now or five years from now, for a Cubs TV universe where virtually all the games are on cable, and very few on free, local, over-the-air television.

Many will lament the passing of a relationship between WGN-TV and the Cubs that has lasted more than 65 years -- the longest such relationship between any television channel and a sports team -- but that's simply a reflection of how the broadcasting business has changed.