On Saturday the Cubs long anticipated network will debut at 1 p.m. Central Time. I’ve been pretty hyped about this for a while, so I don’t think anyone will find it surprising that I’ve already blocked out my Saturday to watch the initial broadcasts, the first spring training game (which has been rescheduled to 7:10 CT), and an Ernie Banks “Cubumentary.” I’m not entirely sure that the word Cubumentary should exist, but I’m reasonably sure that no TV station in history has been more targeted to me as a consumer. I’m also reasonably sure there are somewhere around one million Cubs fans in the Chicago area in that target demographic who will not be able to see the debut of the Marquee Network.
With less than 24 hours to go before the launch of Marquee Network the station has yet to reach an agreement with Comcast to carry it. That’s a big deal because Comcast has more subscribers than any other cable provider in the Chicago DMA and it’s not particularly close. From their publicly available market overview (which definitely needs a re-write before tomorrow):
Comcast Spotlight’s Chicago DMA serves the nation’s third largest market by combining television and digital video to reach an audience of over 2.5 Million through high-quality content at any time, on any device. We offer businesses a variety of advertising opportunities on high visibility sports coverage of hometown favorites like the Cubs, Bears, Blackhawks and Bulls. You can also reach potential customers with popular cable programming across 50+ networks including HGTV, Discovery Channel, ESPN, TLC, and more
If you head to Marquee’s webpage the channel line up, offerings and partners looks impressive. If you’re one of the lucky DirecTV or RCN subscribers in the network, you probably breathed a sigh of relief when your deal was completed. My personal “oh thank God” was so palpable that it provided a bit of a laugh in our bloggers conversation with Crane Kenney at Cubs Convention. But it’s worth remembering that 2.5 million people, many of whom are Cubs fans are left out of this picture, and they are not happy about it:
Keep in mind, that list is a list of carriers who have agreements in place with Marquee - it doesn’t guarantee that the station will be available on Saturday at 1 p.m. CT as Evan Altman of Cubs Insider found out when he contacted Hulu Live (emphasis in original):
As I learned, they may not have anything in place until after spring training.
“Please note that Marquee Sports Network will be added to the Hulu + Live TV channel lineup for subscribers located where Chicago regional sports networks are available,” a customer service rep informed me in a chat.
“We hope to have the Marquee Sports Network added to our Hulu + Live TV service before MLB opening day (3/26).”
Not great news for Cubs fans who were looking forward to catching spring training on Hulu Live.
I spoke with two Cubs fans who won’t be able to watch the Marquee Network as of February 22 to get an idea of how fans without access to Marquee are reacting to the roll out of the Cubs new network. Robert Briick has been a Cubs fan for 43 years and watches 162 Cubs games a year plus spring training and the playoffs. He’s had the Cubs lineup memorized since he was three years old and got a call from Jody Davis on his seventh birthday. However, he’s also a small business owner currently in a contract with Comcast, and adding on a $50+ a month service like Hulu Live is not an option. He broke my heart a little when he told me that he’s been ignoring the Marquee content on his timeline “...so he doesn’t get angry everyday about what he’ll soon be missing with no end in sight.”
It isn’t just traditional Comcast subscribers who find themselves on the outs with Marquee, however. Tim Gibson is a Cubs fan who cut the cable cord six years ago. While he has a Hulu subscription, he told me the Live option is “pointless” to his family. “We’ll never purchase it, Cubs games or not.” He indicated the same was true for any cable provider, additional service. He was genuinely sad that it looked like his options for watching the Cubs would be limited to in person at Wrigley, on national broadcasts and in a sports bar, if he was lucky. He told me that in his ideal world the Cubs would make Marquee a standalone subscription for around $15/month. And while Tim recognizes that not every family is in the same position as his, he speculates that there will be more families with TV plans that look like his in the future.
Tim and Robert are not alone. I understand that the Cubs and Comcast are in a tight spot with a high stakes negotiation and millions of dollars at stake. However, for fans who have waited months for winter to end so they could watch a little baseball, bombarding Comcast with phone calls begging them to carry their favorite team isn’t exactly a satisfying state of affairs.