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Get Len and JD out of their shirts and ties, and other thoughts about Marquee Sports Network

Some of the things Marquee is doing are good. And some... not so much. And, an explanation of why you can’t see most Marquee programming nationally.

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Marquee Sports Network

Marquee Sports Network now has two full regular-season games under its belt as we begin to get into the meat of the 2020 60-game season, so I thought it would be a good time to talk about some of the things I like about the channel, some things I don’t, and to clear up once again some misconceptions about Marquee.

It was surprising, and odd, to see Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies in jackets and ties for Marquee’s broadcasts. When I saw this Friday, I thought, “Well, maybe they’re dressed up for the first game,” but when they showed up that way Sunday... it just looked weird. Beyond that, as Len said at the beginning of the broadcast, it felt like it was about 118 degrees to them.

Here’s why Marquee is probably doing this, per Jon Greenberg at The Athletic:

It’s obviously not a personal style choice for the Cubs broadcast duo. It felt like an East Coast thing to me, when people come here and tell us Midwestern rubes what’s what.

Marquee Sports Network, run by New Yorkers in Mike McCarthy and Michael Santini, has been vocal about presenting these games as “national network quality” broadcasts, so yes, they’re making Len and JD wear ties, shirts and coats for games.

I had heard about the idea of Marquee giving us “national network quality” telecasts. I took that to mean that production values and other parts of the broadcast itself (graphics, etc.) would be better than any local baseball broadcast. There’s nothing wrong with that, and they mostly succeed, as I wrote here last February. Most of my analysis in that article is still valid here as we head toward the end of July, and I’ll continue on my crusade to get Marquee to move its scorebox off the lower third of the screen to the upper left until (hopefully) they do so.

What doesn’t feel right at all is dressing Len and JD (and other booth guests such as Ryan Dempster) in jacket and tie.

I realize that when you watch a national network baseball game, you will see Joe Buck, John Smoltz, etc. in suits and ties. But for a local broadcast, that just seems wrong. It feels too formal, almost as if you’re separating Len and JD, who have become familiar faces and voices to Cubs fans, from the audience. Len Kasper is in his 16th year as the Cubs’ TV play-by-play announcer. Dressing him up just feels bizarre to me, the viewer. JD has been the Cubs’ TV analyst since 2013, so this is season number eight for him. I like his style and he and Len mesh very well as a team — but he, too, looks uncomfortable in the jacket and tie.

Plus, it was 95 degrees outside Sunday — and yes, I know the newly-renovated Cubs press box has air conditioning, but seriously, let these guys be a little more casual, let them be the Len and JD Cubs fans have gotten to know and love over the last few years, not some East Coast image of what they should be. A nice polo shirt with a Marquee logo would be perfect, or a fleece pullover on colder days. As Greenberg wrote:

As one source close to the situation joked, maybe they’ll let the duo dress down when it gets really hot. It only felt like 100 degrees when the game started. I saw Deshaies in the hallway and let me tell you, he didn’t look especially cool.

The next “network quality” thing I want to address is the constant interruption of game action with interviews and features. Once in a while, these are all right, but in general the reason I am tuning into the game is because I want to watch the game. The interviews are distracting and probably would be better on pre- or post-game coverage.

I suppose I could live with them if they did them with a quick establishing shot showing the viewer who’s being interviewed and then returned to game action. For example, during Sunday’s game Cubs Charities Executive Director Alicia Gonzalez was interviewed about the Cubs’ online sales of 50/50 raffle tickets. That’s useful information, since obviously they can’t sell those at the ballpark and now you can buy them online (if you’re an Illinois resident) during home games. But I don’t need to see her, or Len and JD along with her, while there’s game action going on. Set up a shot, show us who it is, then go back to the game and put a “voice of” graphic at the bottom of the screen.

Having Dempster in the booth for the middle innings was fine, especially when he gave some useful insights about pitching. I’m generally not a fan of three-person booths because there’s generally not enough time for all three to talk cogently, but limiting these appearances to three innings is all right. I will, however, repeat that I’ve heard enough Mark Grace to last me the rest of the season — in fact, to last me many years. He’s just not good; he wasn’t when he did commentary on Diamondbacks games and his style hasn’t improved. I’ll grant Grace his status as “beloved former Cub,” but please, Marquee, less air time for him.

One other note from Greenberg’s article is about TV ratings, which were very good for Friday’s game:

According to preliminary overnight ratings, from a source, the Cubs did a 6.0 household rating (equivalent to 195,000 homes) between 6 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Friday night, peaking with a 7 (225,000) around 8:30 p.m. That was the No. 1 viewed broadcast in that time slot in Chicago. (The White Sox game, according to a source, did a 3.1 [100,000 homes] on NBC Sports Chicago.)

It’s clear that people missed baseball while it was on hiatus. Presuming the Cubs do well in this sprint of a season, I would imagine TV ratings will remain high, particularly since 47 of the remaining 57 games are night games and no one can attend any of them.

The last thing I want to mention today about Marquee is where you can see various programming on the network, and why. I wrote about this last February after the network’s launch, but it bears repeating. First, let’s start with our trusty MLB territorial map:

mlb territorial map

As you can see on the 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 Marquee 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, which now includes Comcast/Xfinity, the largest provider in the Chicago metro area. Comcast, which covers a little more than 50 percent of the market, signed up just in time for Friday’s opener. That agreement gives Marquee a total of a bit over 90 percent coverage on various providers in the Chicago metro area, as well as coverage on Comcast systems in Ft. Wayne and parts of the Indianapolis metro area.

Unfortunately, if you are a Dish Network subscriber, you are probably out of luck. 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 deals with any regional sports networks. YouTube TV also doesn’t have a deal with Marquee or other RSNs and might not do so. If you are a YTTV subscriber, you might be better off going to a service like Hulu+ Live through the baseball season and then switching back to YTTV, presuming you don’t have to sign a contract with either.

Now, let me clear up some misconceptions about Marquee.

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 broadcasts, just as you would watch any other channel on your cable, satellite or streaming 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 — subscribe here) or MLB Extra Innings (cable or satellite — list of national 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+ Live, you will not get Cubs content on those services at all unless you live inside the Cubs’ market territory.

This is true even if you have a channel on your system “reserved” for Marquee, as I believe is the case on DirecTV. DirecTV is a national service, so yes, it will have a channel number for Marquee. But the channel on DirecTV can 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 Cubs President of Business Operations Crane 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, and I’ve got one last reminder about getting accustomed to Marquee.

The Cubs have a unique history among baseball teams on television, broadcasting games for 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 now in the history books. We can warmly 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. The Marquee Sports Network was created to put Cubs content all in one place, and (presumably) bring more revenue to the Cubs to pay baseball players. Whether the latter happens or not remains to be seen.

Tempus fugit.

Poll

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

This poll is closed

  • 4%
    Looking good! Like seeing them dressed up
    (40 votes)
  • 80%
    Too "East Coast." Get them back in polo shirts
    (671 votes)
  • 14%
    Don’t care either way
    (123 votes)
834 votes total Vote Now