clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

A review of Marquee Sports Network’s first season broadcasting Cubs baseball

New, 47 comments

All the games (except for national TV contests) were on one channel. Was it better?

Marquee Sports Network

After 70-plus years of Cubs baseball on WGN-TV and various other networks, Cubs baseball (apart from a handful of national games on ESPN and Fox-TV) was seen exclusively in 2020 on their new channel, Marquee Sports Network.

Some things were the same — Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies on play-by-play and analysis, respectively. Some things were different — additional voices in the booth. Some things were new — extended pre- and post-game coverage as well as other Cubs-related programming on the network.

How did they do? I want to preface this by saying that Marquee couldn’t have had worse luck in launching a new TV channel in the middle of a pandemic, which changed pretty much everything they wanted to do. Studio shows were done in part via Zoom calls. Game coverage was limited in some ways due to the number of camera operators permitted at ballparks and the fact that in general, a single video feed was given to both home and away teams, instead of each team having its own. That limited the sorts of reaction shots you’d want to show the fans of the team you’re covering.

So in general, I give Marquee high marks for getting itself on the air and for the most part, giving us baseball broadcasts that looked and felt mostly normal. Some things they did well. Other things I didn’t care for at all. And just a reminder, I am looking at this not just from the perspective of a Cubs fan, but from the viewpoint of a television director, work I did for 30 years before leaving to write about the Cubs.

Let’s have a look at various aspects of the network’s offerings.

Overall visual presentation

I didn’t have an issue with the way Marquee’s directors cut game action, in general they did a good job. There was a little too much of this camera angle:

Marquee Sports Network

However, I do understand that a lot of this is, again, due to pandemic limitations on the number of camera operators and that there’s a single video feed for both teams. When things return to normal I’d like to see less of this angle.

During Spring Training I posted this review of Marquee’s graphics, which in general were in appropriate colors and readable and used well. In August, I posted another look at some of the graphics used, many of which were interesting and informative and not used elsewhere.

But then, there’s this, the bane of my existence as a Marquee viewer in 2020:

Marquee Sports Network

I have never been able to figure out why TV channels keep messing with the location of the scorebox. The best location is in the upper left of the screen, because that’s where your eye naturally goes:

NBC Sports Chicago

That screenshot is from September 2019. NBC Sports Chicago, which still uses that style of scorebox, gets it all correct. The score’s easy to read, as is the runners-on-base graphic. Everything else is shown with a number instead of dots, which are crisp and easy to read and in what appears to be a darker black on white.

The only other useful location for the scorebox that works is lower-right, where Fox has it. Despite rumors that they would move it this year, they did not do so. This screenshot is from the Braves/Marlins division series this week:

Fox Sports

Out of the way, a place where your eye can quickly glance to see everything with numbers, as well as the batter and pitcher names. In this case, the white on dark scheme also works.

So why did TBS mess around with this in October 2020?

TBS

Nope. Just nope. If you glance there you’ll miss all the other action going on. Yes, I know it’s just a glance — but why not put it in the area where the eye naturally goes? TBS had it upper-left last year:

TBS

That was fine. Why the change?

In that August article I asked Mike Bojanowski (who has much better Photoshop skills than I do) to take apart Marquee’s lower-third scorebox and put it back together in the upper left:

Marquee Sports Network

If you’re thinking that looks vaguely familiar, here’s why:

ESPN

Well then. The box ESPN uses — which works just fine for me — is very similar to what Mike designed for Marquee based on their current graphics look. They should adopt a look like that for 2021.

Honestly, I also like the “pitchcast” box (shown above) which shows every pitch of the at-bat and where it was located when called. Marquee uses the ESPN/Fox style, which shows a thin outline in front of the catcher as the pitch is being thrown, as well as the pitch speed:

Marquee Sports Network

That’s okay, I suppose, but it would also be useful to see the pitches from the rest of the at-bat. It’s certainly technologically possible — MLB Gameday has that information. I’d like to see Marquee add it.

Poll

Marquee’s scorebox should be located...

This poll is closed

  • 70%
    Upper left
    (306 votes)
  • 5%
    Lower-third, where it is now
    (23 votes)
  • 0%
    Lower left
    (1 vote)
  • 3%
    Lower right
    (17 votes)
  • 19%
    Don’t care
    (85 votes)
432 votes total Vote Now

The announcers

The Cubs and Marquee signed Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies to multi-year contracts to continue in the Cubs booth. This was a smart move, as not only are the pair very popular among Cubs fans, but in my opinion they’re the best in the business. This gave Marquee some continuity from previous broadcasts.

What didn’t give them continuity was a steady stream of third announcers in the booth. In my view, this doesn’t work either on the network level or local level. There’s never enough time for three booth announcers — plus a field reporter — to make cogent comments on the game in front of them. Or if they do, they’re constantly talking over each other and occasionally missing action.

Having said that, the addition of Ryan Dempster to the booth for some games was an asset to broadcasts. Dempster can be funny and witty and he does have useful things to say about the game, particularly about pitching. He could easily be a good analyst on his own in any baseball TV booth. Even so, I still don’t want to see three people in the Cubs booth too often.

What didn’t work at all was Mark Grace, and what I don’t understand is how this was not known to Marquee executives before they went on the air. Grace was an analyst on Arizona Diamondbacks games from 2004-12 (and returned there in 2017) and the almost-universal feeling about him is that he was terrible. He didn’t contribute any useful analysis and often went off on irrelevant tangents about his playing career.

Why you’d want someone like that on your air is beyond me, and I wrote about the problems with Grace here and here and I won’t belabor this any further except to say that after the second of those, Grace was removed from the booth and just made a couple of appearances on pre- and post-game shows the rest of the 2020 season.

I have said this before and I do want to repeat it now: I will grant Grace his lifetime status as “beloved former Cub.” But please, Marquee, don’t put him on the air again going forward.

Poll

Three announcers in the Marquee booth...

This poll is closed

  • 4%
    Fine with me no matter who it is
    (20 votes)
  • 6%
    Fine with me as long as it’s not Mark Grace
    (30 votes)
  • 21%
    Fine with me, but ONLY if it’s Ryan Dempster
    (102 votes)
  • 61%
    Nope. Len and JD only
    (296 votes)
  • 6%
    Don’t care
    (33 votes)
481 votes total Vote Now

What appears to have happened here is this: Marquee executives promised us we’d get a “network quality broadcast.” Then they took all the things people hate most about network broadcasts — extra voices, fluffy features — and gave them to us. With a 24/7 network covering the Cubs, there’s plenty of time for those things. But during the game, I believe Cubs fans want to see their announcers and producers and directors cover game action. We don’t need a random selection of former Cubs, some of whom (Ryan Sweeney, Carlos Pena) are barely remembered as Cubs, just to prove that the network can do it.

Poll

Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies in shirt and tie...

This poll is closed

  • 7%
    Looking good! Like seeing them dressed up
    (35 votes)
  • 74%
    Too "East Coast." Get them back in polo shirts
    (364 votes)
  • 17%
    Don’t care
    (87 votes)
486 votes total Vote Now

Taylor McGregor

Yes, Marquee’s new field reporter gets her own section.

I met Taylor in Spring Training and she was personable and friendly and did nice work when stationed in the dugouts at that time.

Obviously, it’s not really possible for her to perform as “field reporter” when there’s no access to players or coaches on the field. And so Marquee had her do other things during games... like this fluffy feature report on the Bears at Wrigley Field, which interrupted play during what turned out to be Alec Mills’ no-hitter.

They did it again with Taylor on September 25 when the Cubs were playing the White Sox [VIDEO].

This went on for an entire at-bat in the top of the third inning of that game. If you weren’t watching intently you missed quite a bit of action, and it felt choppy, going back and forth between live action and the feature. Again, while interesting, this bit of Cubs history wasn’t relevant to the game at all. It should be noted that the Cubs hadn’t yet clinched the NL Central at that time and though they had a 4-0 lead in the game, the outcome wasn’t anywhere near certain.

I get it, they hired a field reporter and she can’t “field report” so they gave her something else to do. I would want that “something else” to at least be related to the game at hand. There were also features from Taylor showing old Cubs World Series memorabilia during a couple of games, and once Len and JD enter that conversation it distracts too much from the game at hand.

Poll

Taylor McGregor’s grade for her first year at Marquee Sports Network is...

This poll is closed

  • 18%
    A
    (79 votes)
  • 32%
    B
    (142 votes)
  • 17%
    C
    (78 votes)
  • 7%
    D
    (34 votes)
  • 5%
    F
    (22 votes)
  • 18%
    Incomplete
    (82 votes)
437 votes total Vote Now

Graphics, good and bad

These two, I like:

Marquee Sports Network
Marquee Sports Network

The first one shows the types of pitches used by each pitcher and how much they rely on each. This is an excellent visualization and I enjoyed seeing it for every game.

The second shows how many feet a baseball would be helped or hindered by the wind for each game. That’s a unique idea I haven’t seen anywhere else and it’s easy to visualize. Marquee has a full page on its website explaining how this all works. I would love to see more of this sort of thing, graphics on things that could affect play that might not otherwise come to our attention as viewers.

But Marquee, oh, no...

Marquee Sports Network

“‘Quees to the Game,” I get it! “Quees” is a riff on “Marquee.” Kind of. Sort of. And it sounds like “Keys”! Kind of. Sort of. This is way too cutesy for television and I wish they’d change it. The way JD would read these each game, I got the feeling that he didn’t much care for the name, either. I get why they’re doing this — it’s another place to get a sponsor. But please, they’re “Keys.”

This is how I concluded my August 18 article, linked above, about Marquee game broadcasts:

They should feel like comfy old clothes, not some stiff-collared new shirt that you have to stretch out and wash 30 times before it fits right.

If you’re reading, Marquee management, please take these suggestions in the spirit in which they’re given, from a former TV director who would just like to see your broadcasts remain the best in the business, as Cubs games on TV have been for over 70 years.

That’s still the way I see it. Frankly, Marquee doesn’t feel very “Chicago” to me. I’d like to see them re-examine some of the things noted in this article to improve the video portion of their broadcasts as well as the presentation from the booth and, in the words of WGN-TV’s old slogan, make it “Chicago’s Very Own.”

I’ll give Marquee a solid “B” for their efforts in 2020, given the challenges of launching a channel and doing live coverage in the middle of a pandemic. Putting some of these suggestions into practice would go a long way toward raising that grade in my estimation.

Poll

My grade for Marquee Sports Network’s 2020 Cubs coverage is...

This poll is closed

  • 8%
    A
    (35 votes)
  • 37%
    B
    (154 votes)
  • 35%
    C
    (144 votes)
  • 10%
    D
    (42 votes)
  • 2%
    F
    (11 votes)
  • 5%
    Incomplete
    (22 votes)
408 votes total Vote Now