Earlier this week, I wrote about a meeting between Cubs and WGN-TV executives that reportedly took place Monday; it seemed as if the team and the television station might be getting close to a new agreement.
In Friday's Tribune, Robert Channick writes that might actually be close to happening:
While the team's long-term play is to create a regional sports network, sources say the Cubs are working on a return to WGN-Ch. 9 next season, perhaps with a reduced broadcast schedule and the potential for revenue sharing. Such a deal could require moving more games to Comcast SportsNet, the team's cable partner. In September, the Cubs said an announcement about the team's broadcast plans for next season was imminent. Cubs spokesman Julian Green declined to comment Thursday. A spokesman for Tribune Media, which owns WGN-Ch. 9, also declined to comment Thursday. But sources say the Cubs and Tribune Media appear ready to play ball after a trial separation failed to produce viable short-term alternatives, though they caution the long-awaited announcement may still take some time.
The article goes on to say that the WGN schedule could be "reduced," and that would require more games to be carried by CSN Chicago. Talks, wrote Channick, are ongoing with CSN, which recently launched a second full-time channel carried on Chicago-area cable systems. The second channel could certainly be available for additional Cubs games if they can work out a deal. The Cubs own 20 percent of CSN Chicago; the White Sox, Bulls, Blackhawks and NBC Universal each own 20 percent as well.
For those who thought that Fox-TV might become a partner with the Cubs, that appears to be off the table:
Some industry sources had suggested the Cubs might move to WPWR-Ch. 50 next season, perhaps with plans to launch a back-end regional sports network with Fox in 2020. A source familiar with the situation, who declined to speak on the record, said no such discussions are taking place. "There have been no conversations between Fox and the Cubs for quite some time," the source said. "Everything else is just speculation."
Nothing in the Tribune article mentions WGN America, so this proposed deal would appear to be with local WGN-Ch. 9 only. If that's the case, the Cubs would likely want to try to get those games carried on subchannels on markets located within the Cubs' blackout area as shown on this map, which includes much of Illinois and Iowa and portions of Indiana and Wisconsin. Otherwise Cubs fans whose cable/satellite systems don't carry the local version of WGN-TV would be unable to watch any of the games carried by local WGN-Ch. 9.
The article indicates that the Cubs get a rights fee of $500,000 per game from CSN Chicago and had been receiving $250,000 per game from WGN in the deal from which they opted out at the end of 2014. It would seem, now that the team appears on the upswing, that they could get at least an amount matching the CSN per-game figure in any new deal.
As noted in the first quote from Channick's article, no announcement appears imminent, but it does seem more and more likely that Cubs games will continue on WGN-TV, at least locally in Chicago, and at least for a few more years until the team has all its games available to sell in one package, at which time they could sell them all to one entity, or form the Cubs TV network the team has wished for.