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What's Next For Cubs TV In The Blackout Areas

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MLB's court settlement does little for you. But this information might help.

The recent court settlement agreed to by Major League Baseball will give people who want to watch out-of-market baseball games a price break and a bit of an inroad into watching their favorite team's broadcasts. The details won't come out until later this month.

For those of you who live in the blackout areas (the areas MLB likes to euphemistically call "Home Team Territory"), none of that's going to help you. You're still going to be blacked out of the Cubs games on CSN Chicago unless you have satellite service, or unless your local cable system carries the channel, which is a problem particularly for Mediacom customers in Des Moines, to cite just one example.

A bigger problem, though, is the 70 over-the-air games that will air for the next four years over WGN-Ch. 9 and WLS-Ch. 7 in Chicago. I'm not certain about OTA games this year, but in 2015, the total of 70 games was nearly one-third of all OTA games for all 30 teams. It's unlikely there are any more OTA games in 2016 than there were in 2015, so the Cubs' share of the total is likely to increase.

Last summer, the Cubs and the rightsholders were able to arrange carriage of some of these games in some of the affected markets. According to this 2015 schedule, many -- but not all -- of these 70 games were carried in 10 different markets in these markets in the blackout area:

Cedar Rapids/Waterloo/Iowa City/Dubuque
Champaign/Springfield/Decatur
Davenport/Rock Island/Moline (Quad Cities)
Des Moines
Ft. Wayne
Indianapolis
Peoria
Quincy/Hannibal/Keokuk
Rockford
South Bend/Elkhart

There are four other markets in the blackout area:

Mason City
Omaha (which covers a large part of Iowa)
Ottumwa/Kirksville
Terre Haute

That's a large number of games -- almost half the schedule -- and a large number of markets where games have to be sold to OTA channels by the Cubs and the rightsholders. Here's what Crane Kenney said recently about this:

We want all Cubs fans in our territory to have access to our games. We're working as hard as we can to stitch together a robust over-the-air network that reaches all parts of our territory.  We have a great network of stations that are actively looking to expand the reach of our games and have experienced early success with affiliates and cable providers outside of Chicago. 

As the team gets better, more stations may have an interest. Fans also can reach out to their over-the-air and cable providers to express an interest in getting Cubs games through our rights holders. The more fans who reach out could help influence whether an affiliate or cable provider picks up the games through our rights holders.

Kenney's talking about both cable providers and OTA affiliates. Since so many of you are cord-cutters, this article's mostly about the OTA games. I would think that the good performance of the team in 2015 and hopes for a better 2016 would make these games attractive to OTA channels in all those markets, even if the games wind up on a digital subchannel (you can see in that .pdf above that many of them did last year).

Thus I think Crane is correct. It surely wouldn't hurt, and might help, if those of you who live in the blackout area markets would contact station managers at the various OTA channels in your markets. I'm personally hoping that all 70 games get sold in all 14 markets, which would provide coverage throughout the blackout area. We don't know yet which games will be OTA and which will be on cable in 2016, but the rightsholders do, and so they'd know which games they would be bidding for.

The Cubs have promised to send me a list of all the OTA affiliates and games carried when it's available. I'll post more information when I get it.