This article by Patrick Mooney in The Athletic details a wide-ranging interview with Cubs President of Business Operations Crane Kenney regarding the Marquee Network, which will go on the air in early 2020 and carry all Cubs games beginning next year.
To me — and I say this as someone who worked in TV for many years and am very interested in the nuts and bolts of TV production — this was the most interesting part of the article:
“Right on schedule,” Cubs president of business operations Crane Kenney said Monday during a wide-ranging interview about the team’s vision for Marquee. “We’ll be ready for February.”
Not only that, but Kenney said the Cubs’ payroll should immediately see a boost. After this season, there should be money for Theo Epstein and his staff to sign free agents or their own players to big-money extensions. That’s good news for the baseball operations department, which dealt with a well-publicized budget crunch this past winter.
“Those additional resources are available immediately next year,” Kenney said. “The team has a rights fee significantly higher than what they’re receiving today, so that’s from the start. Then there’s the question on the network side of what profits are enjoyed, if any, (so) they could also be used for investment in the team or other assets around the ballpark or other interests of the (Ricketts) family. That’s probably a little further down the road. But from the team’s perspective, the rights agreement that they’ve got in place with (Marquee) will give them more resources next year than they had today.”
The anticipated money coming into the baseball payroll beginning in 2020 is likely one of the reasons for the contract extensions the ballclub signed with Kyle Hendricks and David Bote. Javier Baez and Willson Contreras could be next on the extension list, perhaps signed later this season or over the winter.
The article didn’t mention what the Cubs’ new rights fee would be. Based on this 2016 Fangraphs article, the Cubs are pocketing about $65 million per season in annual rights fees from their current deals with NBC Sports Chicago, WGN and ABC7, all of which expire at the end of 2019. You’d think that per-year figure would at least double, to put it in the range of the top rights-fees teams listed in the chart in that article.
Further, the Cubs have significant money coming off the books at the end of the 2019 season. Cole Hamels ($20 million), Ben Zobrist ($18 million), Pedro Strop ($6.25 million), Steve Cishek ($6 million), Brandon Kintzler ($5 million) and Xavier Cedeno ($900,000) are all free agents after this season. Some of those players might be retained, to be sure, but that’s $56.15 million available for the Cubs to possibly put elsewhere in the baseball payroll.
This is money that could extend the Cubs’ window of contention, and it’s coming at just the right time.