Each year Cubs President of Business Operations Crane Kenney takes the time to sit down with a small group of bloggers and take our questions. It’s always a great opportunity to hear more about what Cubs fans can expect around the ballpark but with the launch of Marquee Network next month I was particularly grateful for the opportunity to have some of those questions answered.
One of the most surprising moments of Cubs Convention for me Friday night was the animosity that fans showed towards the Marquee Network during Tom Ricketts’ opening remarks on Friday night. Those boos and Marquee were clearly on Kenney’s mind as he sat down to chat with us. He compared the fans’ reaction to the reticence they had regarding the shift from WGN Radio to 670 The Score, the building of the video boards in the outfield and the demolition of the McDonald’s at the corner of Clark and Addison.
It was pretty clear the concerns about Marquee stemmed from a couple of places. Cubs fans tend to love the classics, after all their team is one of the oldest in baseball and Wrigley Field is the second oldest park in the country. Additionally, fans have expressed a lot of confusion about how they’ll watch Marquee or whether they’ll be able to at all. There were concerns about the cost, what tier of cable subscription the channel would be on, would it be pay per view, and more.
Kenney cleared up a lot of these issues. Marquee will be a single destination for Cubs baseball and eliminates a lot of complications. It will be available on the basic tier of cable packages, fans will not pay more for Marquee. For most fans, Marquee will just require you remember a different channel on your cable guide. For cord cutters or subscribers to MLB.tv or MLB Extra Innings, Cubs access should remain the same.
In recent years Cubs games have been all over the cable dial. The Cubs have also shared TV space with the other sports teams in Chicago:
That created some equity concerns among special features in two ways. First, although the Cubs were the most popular sports franchise in Chicago if they asked for special coverage, like a documentary or feature, other teams wanted that coverage as well. Additionally, if they wanted to give special access to ABC7, every other station that carried the Cubs wanted the same access.
The Cubs also announced a lot of new talent affiliated with Marquee Sports Network today including Mike McCarthy who won over 75 Emmys for the work he did with MSG Network covering the Mets and the Rangers in New York. McCarthy said this was a “once in a lifetime” dream to launch a network with the Cubs. There will be Cubs-centric original programming, Cubs classics including over 4,000 games in the archive, and other Cubs-related programming including minor-league games.
All 28 Spring Training games will be on Marquee, the first will be aired on Feb. 22, but there will be so much more. McCarthy announced three documentaries at the panel including an Ernie Banks feature, a Harry Caray documentary and a documentary covering the Sandberg Game. I was particularly fired up to hear they will be offering expanded coverage of minor league affiliates, which should let Cubs fans track their farm systems in new and improved ways.
McCarthy will be joined by MLB Network’s Mike Santini, who will be program manager. The Cubs got hundreds of requests to be involved in the development of Marquee and Santini’s experience helping launch MLB Network will be invaluable. He’s a lifelong Cubs fan who promised he would never be involved in a station launch again – until he heard about this opportunity which he described as something “had to do.”
Marquee will have one of the best announcing teams in the country. Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies will remain with the Cubs, however Len will occasionally be joined in the booth by some additional talent including some Cubs fan favorites. Ryan Dempster, Mark DeRosa, Lou Piniella, Dan Plesac, Doug Glanville, Jason Hammel, Carlos Pena, Rick Sutcliffe and SportsCenter veteran Chris Myers were all announced as on air talent at Cubs Convention. Myers was so excited about the opportunity to work with Marquee he had his friend Bill Murray put in a good word with the front office
Cole Wright, a Chicago-area native who has been working for the NFL Network will be doing most of the pre- and post-game coverage along with roving reporter Taylor McGregor who comes to the Cubs from the Colorado Rockies. McGregor led the Q & A with some of the new Cubs talent. Which included an incredibly informative conversation with Plesac on the implications of the sign stealing scandal.
By the end of the session the mood of the entire convention had shifted on Marquee Sports Network. The boos from Friday night had been replaced by enthusiastic cheers, nods of approval and excitement among fans. The Cubs announced 22 new carrier deals today, bringing the total up to 25. Notably, that includes RCN which covers over 500,000 households in Chicago.
While many are still worried that there isn’t a deal with Comcast in place, Kenney expressed confidence that deal would be done by early spring. In the meantime, the best thing fans can do to help them ensure that deal is call Comcast and express their desire to watch the Cubs on Marquee.