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A few words about Marquee Sports Network’s Spring Training coverage

The complaint department is closed.

Marquee Sports Network

Marquee Sports Network is carrying 17 of the Cubs’ 21 Spring Training games this year.

Of the other four, two were on MLB Network and the other two are split-squad games, and the channel obviously can’t carry two games at once.

Yet, I have heard quite a number of complaints about Marquee’s coverage of Cubs spring games, mostly centered around the fact that the channel has aired the coverage originating from the Cubs’ opponent’s channel rather than their own. This will account for four games overall this spring, including Friday, when the Cubs game against the Brewers on Marquee will feature Bally Sports Wisconsin’s feed. (I can’t wait to hear the complaints tomorrow, when Marquee is carrying that game and not the one against the Diamondbacks, which will feature Kyle Hendricks against Madison Bumgarner. Again, the complaint department is closed.)

Quite a few of these complaints originated from folks who live outside the Cubs market territory, so I thought it would be worth posting another tutorial about how Marquee Sports Network’s coverage works.

Marquee is a regional sports network, often abbreviated RSN here and elsewhere, emphasis on the word “regional.”

This allows me to once again trot out one of my favorite maps:

Baseball TV Territorial Map

The Cubs’ market territory consists of most of Illinois (except the area around St. Louis), all of Iowa, most of Indiana (except the area near Cincinnati) and a couple of counties’ worth of southern Wisconsin.

In that territory, if you subscribe to a cable or satellite provider that carries Marquee — and that consists of about 92 percent of the market — you receive Marquee as part of your subscription. You’ll get not only the live games, but Marquee’s other programming.

Outside the Cubs’ market territory, you cannot receive Marquee’s non-game programming. Why is this? Because of what I mentioned above — Marquee is a regional sports network. In order to show its non-game programming outside of the market territory described above, the channel would have to make separate deals with providers. This has not happened. In fact, the overwhelming majority of RSNs don’t have such agreements. Only the Yankees’ YES Network does, and only in a handful of markets. The Cubs have expressed interest in having Marquee available elsewhere, but so far this has not happened.

What does that mean to you, the Cubs fan who is living outside the market territory described above? For you, you’ll watch Cubs games on MLB.TV or MLB Extra Innings. This was the case in 2019 and earlier, when Cubs games were on WGN-TV and NBC Sports Chicago. It hasn’t changed. So, in a way, I do understand the complaints because, well, if you wanted to watch the Bally Sports West coverage of Cubs vs. Angels on March 24, you could have simply chosen that feed on MLB.TV or Extra Innings. Those services do provide pre- and post-game coverage from Marquee on some games, but the rest of Marquee’s programming is for in-market customers only.

As I wrote here last month, the Cubs are looking into starting an over-the-top streaming service for Marquee’s programming. If this happens, Cubs fans within the market territory wouldn’t have to have a cable or satellite subscription to get Marquee’s programming; they could simply subscribe to the streaming service, as they do for Netflix or Disney+ or ESPN+ or any one of a number of streaming services. As I noted in that article, though, the current proposed price seemed too high to many analysts, as quoted in a New York Post article I linked:

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.

So this is clearly a work in progress, and again, even if it happens it’ll only be available to folks who live in the Cubs market territory. Outside the territory, you’ll still watch Cubs games the way you have previously, on MLB.TV or MLB Extra Innings.

Lastly, it seems clear that the RSN business model is way past its sell-by date. Cord-cutting is continuing, and streaming services are the way professional sports seem to be going, including MLB with its new deals with Peacock and Apple TV+. In the future, I can see a time where most or all MLB games will be streamed and it won’t matter where you live, you’ll be able to watch any of them as long as you pay for them.

Just to repeat, though: The complaint department is closed. Whether you are a Marquee subscriber in-market or a MLB.TV or MLB Extra Innings subscriber outside the Cubs market, you can watch the Cubs play this spring. It shouldn’t matter which team’s broadcasters are calling the games.