It's a big day for news involving the Cubs and WGN. Via Crain's Chicago Business, quoting Tribune Company CEO Peter Liguori:
He's in the process of converting the company's national broadcast channel, WGN America, from a superstation into a basic cable channel, which is mainly a technical transition, except that it will require dumping the Cubs, Bulls, Blackhawks, and White Sox game broadcasts. He doesn't mind, because that programming hasn't been paying off anyway, and besides — he's a New York Mets fan. "If the Cubs continue on this path to virtual irrelevancy, it's really not going to matter," he said at a recent New York media conference in a tongue-in-cheek preamble to his bottom-line reasoning: "When you look at the Bulls, the White Sox, the Cubs, and the Blackhawks, outside of the greater Chicago (designated market area), they really do lose their attraction."
He's right, no matter how much Cubs fans outside the Chicago area -- and I know there are plenty of you here -- love seeing the Cubs on WGN America. It's a 1980s anachronism that lasted into the first decade of the 21st Century largely because the Cubs were a good team. If they had continued to be a winner this decade, would Liguori have said the same thing? Probably, because even at the peak of popularity, Cubs games don't draw the ratings Liguori wants for his channel and they are expensive to produce. Two things should be noted: first, the article says that WGN radio is "still negotiating" for a contract to keep the Cubs, which is contradictory to the information posted in the Tribune by Ed Sherman this morning. We'll see what happens.
But second, the Crain's article also notes that the Blackhawks just re-upped for another five years on WGN-TV. By NHL rules, those games can't be carried, and never have been carried, by WGN America. So it's entirely possible that WGN-TV, the local version seen in the Chicago area on Channel 9, will re-up for five more years of just carrying the games locally. It should also be pointed out that WGN-TV produces eight Cubs games a year that are carried on WCIU-TV, and WCIU games can be seen on these channels: Springfield/Decatur/Champaign, WCIX 49.2; Peoria, WAOE 59.1; Des Moines, WHO 13.2; Quad Cities (Davenport/Moline), WQAD 8.2 or 8.3; Ft. Wayne, WANE 15.2; South Bend, WMYS 69; Rockford, WTVO 17.2; and Cedar Rapids-Waterloo-Iowa City-Dubuque KCRG 9.2.
Back in the early 1970s, WGN partnered with broadcast stations in all of those markets to carry Cubs games over-the-air, in the days before WGN-TV was carried on national cable. It's certainly possible that WGN could make a deal to have its games carried on those subchannels, so at least they'd be available in most of Illinois and Iowa and parts of Indiana. If you're not in those areas, you'll still be able to watch the Cubs on cable or satellite -- you'll just have to pay extra for it via MLB Extra Innings.
But the days of Cubs games (and other Chicago sports team games, too) on WGN America are over. It was a great national run -- 36 years, from about 1978 through the end of this season. But I would anticipate the 66-year run of Cubs baseball on over-the-air WGN-TV in Chicago to continue -- for another five years, at which time that, too, will likely come to an end.