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There’s a new bidder for Fox’s RSNs. Here’s what that might mean for the Cubs.

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The Cubs Network has not yet been formally announced.

Al Yellon

Many rumors have surfaced about the proposed new Cubs TV network, which is supposed to debut for the 2020 season. But no formal announcement has yet been made.

Some of those rumors had the Cubs partnering with Sinclair Broadcasting, a company that runs quite a large number of broadcast TV stations in the USA. But no formal announcement has been made of a partner for the Cubs in this part of the endeavor, either.

This recent Bloomberg article gives a hint to what might be going on behind the scenes. As you might recall, Fox and Disney are in the late stages of finalizing a merger of many of the Fox properties under the Disney umbrella. But regulators are requiring Disney to divest the 21 regional sports networks that Fox operates.

There have been several bidders for these RSNs, and the Bloomberg article says there’s a new entrant into the bidding:

Minnesota Twins owner Jim Pohlad is joining Platinum Equity LLC and Liberty Media Corp.’s bidder group, according to two people with knowledge of the matter. Liberty, controlled by John Malone, owns baseball’s Atlanta Braves, while Platinum Chairman Tom Gores owns basketball’s Detroit Pistons.

Other bidders include Major League Baseball:

Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc., Apollo Global Management LLC and Major League Baseball also submitted offers, and consolidation among bidders is still a possibility, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the process is private.

According to the article, MLB is bidding because they want to help “protect smaller-market clubs like Minnesota,” which is likely why Pohlad is joining the effort. Further:

MLB is backed by the Canada Pension Plan, but the league has been seeking a strategic partner who could ensure the networks get good distribution from cable operators, according to one person.

“Strategic partner.” That’s almost the same language used to describe the Cubs’ proposed deal in this article last December and again in this article by Jordan Bastian at last month, quoting Cubs President of Business Operations Crane Kenney:

“We have a really good sense of who our partner is,” Kenney said. “Our transaction is a little bit [complicated]. We’re involved in a multi-dimensional negotiation. It’s not just us and a partner. It’s us, our partner and multiple others, so there’s just some moving pieces. ... There might be other teams involved. Not local teams.”

Multiple reports in December indicated that the Sinclair Broadcast Group was the front-runner to partner with the Cubs on the venture, but Kenney would not address that aspect.

”We’re not talking about who the partner is,” he said.

Reading between the lines a bit here, it seems to me that the Cubs might be going in as that “strategic partner” with whoever winds up with the Fox RSNs. At the time Kenney made his statement, which was at the Cubs Convention in January, it appeared that Sinclair was the top candidate to acquire those Fox RSNs. That might no longer be the case, based on what’s in the Bloomberg article. That might further explain why Kenney said there are “other teams” involved, and “not local teams.”

This would make sense. All the other RSNs that carry baseball games have another sports team involved with them. Even the Yankees’ YES Network has a partner in the Brooklyn Nets. For the Cubs to be involved as a partner with a group that has other RSNs would, I think, be a good thing for the team.

It should be pointed out also that if MLB were involved, that could be a positive thing for streaming. It might be too much to wish for to have the regional blackouts lifted, but at the very least in-market streaming could be coordinated. Note that while there are 21 Fox RSNs involved in the proposed sale, six of them don’t carry baseball. The 15 MLB teams carried on a Fox RSN are the Angels, Braves, Brewers, Cardinals, Diamondbacks, Indians, Marlins, Padres, Rangers, Rays, Reds, Royals, Tigers, Twins and Yankees.

As always, we await further developments.