We expected this news for quite some time, and from various Twitter reports from Cubs beat writers, it is apparently now official, though there has been no press release from the team nor the station:
So, WGN-TV will still carry Cubs games, as it has since 1948, through the 2019 season. After that, I'd expect the Cubs will sell their entire TV package to one single entity or perhaps create their own cable channel. Who knows what the TV landscape will look like five years from now? I certainly don't.
For the first time since WGN-TV went on national cable in the late 1970s, though, these games will not be seen nationwide on WGN America. As we've discussed here many times, WGNA is getting out of the sports programming business. They've already dropped Bulls broadcasts and I'd expect their White Sox games will also migrate, likely to CSN Chicago's second full-time channel which was started last October.
So what we'll have is likely a split something like this for 2015-2019:
- 80 games on CSN Chicago
- 45 games on WGN-TV (local only)
- 25 games on WLS-Ch. 7 (local only)
- 10-12 games on national networks Fox and ESPN
It's the local broadcast games that cause issues for those of you who live in the blackout areas as shown on this map, which is most of Illinois outside the Chicago metro area, almost all of Iowa, and parts of Indiana and Wisconsin. Unless the Cubs and their broadcast partners can make some sort of deal to have the WGN and WLS games carried on local subchannels in markets in the blackout areas, those of you living there are out of luck for those 70 games.
It's a reality that MLB absolutely must address. There is no logical reason to shut out a large portion of a team's fanbase from watching its games if they are willing to pay for MLB Extra Innings or MLB.TV.
Let's hope the Cubs can make those digital subchannel deals. Stay tuned, as they say in the biz.