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A look ahead to Marquee Sports Network coverage

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... and the challenges of launching a network in a pandemic with General Manager Mike McCarthy and Vice President of Marketing Amy McDevitt

Marquee Sports Network personnel, February 22, 2020, just as the network was about to launch
Marquee Sports Network

It’s supposed to be Opening Day, the day every team comes out of Spring Training with a clean record and full of hope for the 162-game season. Two weeks ago that all changed when Spring Training was canceled and the start of the 2020 baseball season was delayed indefinitely due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The impact across all sports is historic, but in Chicago this pandemic coincides with the Cubs‘ long awaited launch of Marquee Sports Network. On Wednesday afternoon General Manager Mike McCarthy and Vice President of Marketing Amy McDevitt took some time to talk with me about launching a regional sports network amidst the temporary suspension of baseball and what they are most looking forward to revealing when the sport resumes.

You can imagine launching a network in a pandemic is less than ideal, but McCarthy was quick to point out that “given the challenges that everyone is having across the globe with this pandemic our priority here has first and foremost been to secure the safety of all employees and their families.” The team at Marquee Sports Network has adapted along with the rest of us.

Like every non-essential business in Illinois right now Marquee Sports Network is a remote operation. Their staff members, personalities and talent have been coming together on conference calls and laptops to bring Cubs fans baseball programming even as the sport is paused. McCarthy and McDevitt’s adaptability really showed as they talked about the pre/post-coronavirus plans for programming. McCarthy mentioned that they’ve always considered the 4,000+ historic Cubs games a remarkable network asset, they just didn’t think they’d need to tap into that vault in the first month of the network.

McDevitt added that they’ve seen a tremendous response to the “Run for the Ring” series on social media. The network’s tagline is “a network as dedicated as you,” and that dedication is apparent on Twitter and Facebook as fans watch the 2016 postseason and other Cubs classics. Both McDevitt and McCarthy also expressed gratitude to be a small part of a positive distraction for people during an uncertain time.

If you’ve been enjoying features like having players mic’d up during games you are in luck, because Marquee Sports Network plans on expanding those options, at least in Spring Training. McCarthy noted that one of the network’s plans for the Friday right after baseball was shut down included live micing of players similar to this ESPN clip of Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant:

While it’s unclear if features like the live mic’ing up of players will continue during regular season games, it is clear that the Cubs front office has given Marquee Sports Network a lot of access to the Cubs. McCarthy noted that the front office and league have been “very benevolent with the experimental tone of coverage” so far. Additionally, if you enjoyed Marquee’s quick turnaround with social media coverage during Spring Training that’s the result of a highly interactive team that’s had at least one team member embedded with the production team during games. McDevitt highlighted that as a real asset for fans looking for real time connections to the game via social media.

There are a lot of plans for unique Cubs coverage beyond games as well. McCarthy mentioned shows like Cubs 162 that highlight behind the scenes coverage of our favorite Cubs players, like this clip on new manager David Ross:

Fans will also get to see a new hour-long pregame show hosted by Cole Wright, panel discussions with Chris Myers and Cubs greats like Mark Grace, Doug Glanville and Ryan Dempster from Cubs 360, and I was particularly excited that Marquee Sports Network will be unveiling a rebirth of the sportswriters show that will include local experts “shooting from the hip unbridled and with no restraints” according to McCarthy.

One of the areas where Cubs coverage has gone above and beyond in recent years has been telling player stories in the offseason on YouTube. I asked McCarthy and McDevitt if there were plans to highlight the work Cubs players are doing in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. While they mentioned the obvious challenges of getting production crews out as experts recommend staying at home and social distancing they’ve already been using the ticker at the bottom of the network to aggressively promote the work the players, the organization and league are doing. They’ll continue to promote those efforts more and look back at them when baseball resumes.

As much as I’m missing baseball on this Opening Day that wasn’t, talking to McCarthy and McDevitt has me excited about the coverage we’ll see on Marquee Sports Network when the 2020 season resumes. We’re not sure what the season will look like, but I’m positive the adaptable team at Marquee Sports Network will find new and inventive ways to cover the 2020 Chicago Cubs. While we wait, take a night or two and watch some of these Cubs classics. I keep finding hidden gems I’d forgotten about in each game as I watch players I hadn’t thought about in years doing remarkable things. It turns out baseball does still provides a bit of comfort each day in an uncertain world.