Many of you have been unhappy that you can’t watch Cubs games on Marquee Sports Network because you’ve cut the cable cord.
Josh Kosman of the New York Post reports the team is talking about doing something about that:
The Chicago Cubs are in talks with media giant Sinclair Broadcasting to launch a streaming service for customers without a cable or satellite-TV subscription — despite pushback from Major League Baseball on the idea, The Post has learned.
In a deal that insiders say could have league-wide implications, the Cubs and Sinclair are angling to launch the new service following a tough round of negotiations with cable-TV giant Comcast more than a year ago, which resulted in capping monthly fees for the Marquee Sports Network, the broadcaster of local Cubs games, according to sources close to the situation.
Sounds great, right? Not so fast, says MLB:
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred is concerned that Sinclair, loaded down with debt after a series of big acquisitions, doesn’t have the cash needed to produce high-quality broadcasts, sources said. As exclusively reported by The Post, Manfred also has been angling to launch a league-wide streaming service as soon as next year.
The idea of a league-wide streaming service would be a great benefit to baseball fans everywhere who have cut the cord, to allow them to watch their own team’s games presumably without blackout restrictions.
The first thing you ought to know about something like this is that even if it does happen — and there are no guarantees and it seems unlikely this could be in place for 2022 — this would only be for fans in the Cubs market territory. Which allows me to bring out my favorite map again!
The Cubs market territory includes most of Illinois and Indiana, all of Iowa and a small part of southern Wisconsin.
Outside that territory, at least for now, you wouldn’t be able to get this proposed streaming package. You’d still be able to watch games via MLB.TV, but you wouldn’t be able to watch Marquee Sports Network’s other programming. That requires separate out-of-market deals, which the Cubs have said they want, but that’s still for some future time.
This sums up things quite well:
The stakes in the dispute could be high: The Cubs, which own Marquee Sports in a 50-50 partnership with Sinclair, are among the most valuable franchises in baseball. If the team begins broadcasting its games directly to consumers, it might set a precedent for other franchises to quickly follow suit, according to sources close to the situation.
“We’re always exploring options,” Marquee Sports General Manager Michael McCarthy told The Post. “There is nothing definite to announce.”
So does this happen? I would tend to doubt MLB would permit the Cubs to go alone in this, and as noted, Manfred and the league are considering some sort of streaming service. But that’s no sure thing and there’s obviously no specific date for it. Here’s a bit more from the Post article:
One key point of concern for MLB, according to insiders, is the $18-a-month price tag that’s being floated for the new Cubs streaming service — a tab that’s higher than what users pay for streaming services like Netflix, HBO Max or Disney+ and which league officials fear will be too high for the average fan.
“Yes, I think the $18 price is too high,” one source familiar with the negotiations said. “No one is this high. The only person that pays this is someone deeply passionate about regional sports networks and that is a small subset of fans.”
Sinclair counters it can get customers to pay the $18 once it has amassed streaming rights for 14 teams — nearly half of MLB’s franchises, according to sources close to the talks. The plan is for Sinclair’s Bally Sports to begin by airing games of teams whose rights it has recently secured, including the Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Royals, Miami Marlins, Milwaukee Brewers and Tampa Bay Rays games when it launches this summer.
This is all new to MLB game broadcasting. No one is doing over-the-top streaming out-of-market now; many RSNs do have an over-the-top streaming option IN market, but you have to have a cable subscription that includes the RSN to be able to watch games on your phone or tablet or laptop.
No doubt we will hear more about these plans as time goes by.
Now, let’s hope there are games to watch this spring. As always, we await developments.