The Marquee Network debuted Saturday, televising a number of Cubs-related programs as well as the first spring training game from Mesa, Arizona.
The launch was not without its glitches, as documented by Sara Sanchez here Saturday afternoon. This is not an unexpected thing with the beginning of a new cable channel, especially with so many different providers in the Cubs’ market territory. Sara’s review of the first game’s coverage was generally positive.
It’s the market territory that appears to be causing some confusion among Cubs fans, so let me clarify a few things that you might have questions about.
Here is MLB’s territorial map:
The Cubs’ market territory includes Illinois, Iowa, most of Indiana and small portions of southeast Wisconsin and southwest lower Michigan. (The small part of Michigan isn’t noted on this map, which is a few years old. I have not been able to locate a newer version.)
If you live in the market territory (sometimes called the “blackout area”), you will watch the Marquee Network on your cable or satellite provider — if they’ve signed a deal with the network. Not every provider has. Here is a list of all the providers who have signed a deal with Marquee. Notably, that does not include Comcast/Xfinity, the largest provider in the Chicago metro area, or Dish Network. Marquee and Comcast are still talking, and it does seem likely they’ll have a deal by Opening Day. Dish Network has gone on record as saying “the regional sports TV model is broken” and likely won’t carry the channel at all, as they haven’t renewed any deals with regional sports networks.
If you have access to Marquee inside the market territory, you will be able to watch everything it carries, from live games to vintage games to all the documentaries, pre- and post-game shows and talk shows it will carry, just as you would watch any other channel on your system.
If you live outside the market territory, however, your access to Marquee will be different.
Outside the market territory, watching Cubs games will be the same for you in 2020 than it was in 2019 or other recent years. You will have to buy a subscription to MLB.TV (computer, phone, iPad or other mobile device) or MLB Extra Innings (cable or satellite — list of providers here).
However, buying one of those packages outside the Cubs market territory only gets you the live games. It won’t get you Marquee’s other programming.
Why is this? Because Marquee is a regional sports network — emphasis on the word “regional.” RSNs are, by design, intended to be broadcast in one specific region. That means that even if you have a national service such as DirecTV or Hulu+ (and Marquee just signed a deal with Hulu+ last week), you will not get Cubs content on those services at all unless you live inside the Cubs’ market territory, as explained recently in a Tribune article by Paul Sullivan citing Cubs President of Business Operations Crane Kenney:
... only those who subscribe to the Hulu + Live TV service (which starts at $54.99 per month) and live in the Cubs “territory” — which Kenney said covers roughly all of Illinois and Iowa, most of Indiana (to Indianapolis) and “a tiny fraction” of southwest Michigan and southeast Wisconsin — will see the games. He said the Cubs still are negotiating with YouTube TV and other streaming services.
That’s especially good news for those of you who subscribe to YouTube TV — but again, if you do and Marquee makes a deal with them, the channel will only be seen within the Cubs’ market territory.
Now, is it possible that somewhere down the line, Marquee’s lineup of programming other than live games might be available nationwide? Yes, according to Kenney:
Some cable companies might get Marquee in the future, without the actual games, like the Yankees’ YES Network does on some cable stations.
“You can take non-game programming outside the market,” Kenney said. “We are looking at that.”
What I recommend to you at this time is patience. Lots and lots of patience. This is new to all of us. There are bound to be issues, mistakes, problems and questions, some of which might not be answered until after Opening Day. The network’s programming and game coverage was generally well-received by those people who could watch it over the weekend. The Cubs certainly want as many fans as possible inside the market to be able to watch the channel and so the team’s answer to the complaint: “But I can’t get Marquee Network!” is almost certainly “We’re working on it.”
There’s one last thing I wanted to note about the Cubs and television broadcasts. The Cubs have a unique history among baseball teams on television, having more than seven decades on over-the-air broadcast channels. I wrote an entire five-part series here last September fondly remembering those times. But that, and the decades of Cubs fans across the country watching WGN-TV and WGN America on their cable systems, is something that’s over. We can fondly remember those days, but the businesses of baseball and television have changed. You can argue whether or not that’s a good thing, but the reality is that the way we consume television is different than it was in 1960, 1975 or 1990. Eventually, you’ll be able to see the Cubs and the Marquee Network where you are, and yes, it will likely cost you more than you’ve been paying to watch the Cubs on TV.