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The top 10 Cubs stories of the 2010s, #5: WGN-TV out, Marquee Network in

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An era wrapped up with the end of the 2019 season, and the Cubs sail into uncharted TV waters.

Al Yellon

I already wrote over 7,000 words on WGN-TV’s final year after 72 seasons broadcasting Cubs baseball — and you can read every one of those words here — so I’m not sure what else I could add to those five articles written here in September, other than the fact that I will miss WGN-TV as a Cubs partner.

But the reason there were that many words to write about WGN-TV is that for exactly half of the Cubs’ existence as a franchise, WGN and the Cubs were basically synonymous, especially for 20 or so years when the games were broadcast on national cable. As I noted in the five-part series, that helped create a national fanbase for the Cubs that really isn’t matched by any other MLB team. There are many of you who became Cubs fans because of WGN who have never lived in Chicago.

I’m well aware of the changes in the television industry over that period, having worked in it myself for three decades. This day was bound to come at some point, and now we’re here. Cubs games will still be televised — all of them, as they have since 1994 — but it will be different.

The Marquee Sports Network is scheduled to go on the air in around two months, sometime around the time the Cubs will play their first spring training game, Saturday, February 22 at Sloan Park against the Athletics. We’ve been told that at the very least, all 17 games from Sloan Park will be televised on the network, and very possibly most of the away games as well. That’s a positive thing; after a long winter in Chicago, seeing live baseball whets everyone’s appetite for spring.

The network, though, still does not have coverage on Comcast/Xfinity systems in the Chicago area. This is problematic, as Comcast is the top cable provider in the Chicago metro area and has more subscriptions in the area than all the other providers combined. Marquee has already signed deals for coverage on AT&T systems (which include U-verse and DirecTV), as well as Mediacom and Charter, so that’s something, at least. Here’s why Comcast might be delaying:

Not reaching an agreement until opening day rather than the start of spring-training games could save a carrier (and/or its customers) several million dollars.

If you figure conservatively, there are more than 1.5 million Xfinity subscribers in the Chicago area, and the monthly carriage fee will be several dollars apiece. It adds up.

So we’re in a wait-and-see with Comcast, and if you have Dish Network, you might be out of luck:

There is some truth to the argument from Dish executives that “the regional sports model has been broken for years,” and making non-sports fans subsidize the cost of sports channels, whether they want to watch them or not, seems patently unfair.

So whatever happens by Opening Day, there’s no doubt about this: It will be different from any Cubs TV broadcasts you have seen before, even while Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies will still be doing the play-by-play and analysis. And for those of you watching outside the Cubs market territory, little will change for you except the graphics on the new network. You’ll still watch on MLB.tv or MLB Extra Innings.

To conclude, I’ll once again recommend you read (or re-read) the five-part series on the history of the Cubs and WGN-TV, and here are two short videos. The first is the one the Cubs ran on the video boards at Wrigley Field on September 21, the date of the final WGN Cubs telecast from Wrigley Field. The second is WGN-TV’s farewell to Cubs baseball, broadcast after their final Cubs game, September 27 from St. Louis. Some of the clips are the same in both videos, but both are worth your time.