Many fans are wondering just what the future is of the Chicago Cubs TV & Radio with the future being clouded by mystery at the end of the upcoming season.
At the end of the 2014 season, as many people know, the Cubs will become Broadcasting free agents as both their television and radio contracts with WGN will expire. That means the team can explore various other markets to see which networks will be able to offer up the highest price for the rights to broadcast the Cubs games over their airways.
Before you call the Cubs greedy bastards for opting out of the traditional airing of their games on WGN for more money, you should know a few things first.
While the Cubs did opt out of their television deal, as was their right, they were being paid very poorly considering what the rights to broadcast their games brings in for WGN. When the Tribune owned both the Cubs and the WGN networks, they set up a real sweetheart of a deal which paid the Cubs very little for those rights, while pocketing the vast majority of the money that was coming in. I have no issue with the Cubs wanting a better pay day for their product; especially not when you consider all the billion dollar TV deals that are being handed out over the past few years.
However, on the radio side, WGN is the one who chose to opt out as they feel they are paying the Cubs too much to broadcast their games because their ratings are dropping as quickly as the team's record has the past few years.
Now, the Cubs are looking for new deals for both their television and radio broadcasting rights, and there are a few rumors out there as far as where they both might land, if a new deal is not reached with each of the WGN feeds.
There was a report last night which said that FOX was considered to be the front runner in the market to land broadcasting rights for the Cubs games. Under the rumored agreement, FOX would acquire the rights to broadcast roughly half of the Cubs games, with the rest likely being aired on Comcast Sports Net through the 2019 season. The idea here is to build a bridge until such a time where the Cubs themselves can create their own network, and thus cash in on the Billions of dollars they feel they are entitled to earn.
FOX already owns a 49% portion of the YES Network, which is the official network of the New York Yankees, and they will likely have a similar state in whatever network the Cubs start up after the 2019 season is concluded.
As far as why the Cubs cannot start their own network now, there is a clause in their contract with CSN (which the Cubs are partial owners of) which states the Cubs cannot air their games on any other cable network (outside of ESPN and MLB Network obviously) until their contract expires. That is why there is a need for a bridge deal, once that could potentially overlap with the Cubs network where games will still be aired on FOX television.
Which one of the FOX network extensions would air is yet to be determined. You can also likely count out the Cubs getting that multi-billon dollar deal the Anaheim Angels, Los Angels Dodgers and Seattle Mariners received due to lack of leverage. That does not mean though that the Cubs will not receive a hefty pay day though. They will still get a nice offer from FOX or whichever network they land in.
Do not worry though, if this deal does happen, that does not mean that Joe Buck will be broadcasting the majority of the Cubs games. You do not have to worry about him sucking the enjoyment out of your game day festivities. He will still broadcast some of them when there is a national televised game, but the Cubs will still have control over their main television broadcasters, that means Len Kasper and J.D will still be calling games on your television.
The radio is another story though. There the Cubs have few options other than WGN Radio. There have been rumors of the CBS Sports Network throwing their hat in the ring for broadcasting rights. CBS Sports already has the rights to the Chicago White Sox games on WSCR The Score locked up through the 2015 season. But there are other radio options for the Cubs on that network and many different feeds such as WBBM which is currently the home of the Chicago Bears.
ESPN 1000 is another possibility for the Cubs radio home, as they are the radio home of the Chicago Bulls. This is an attractive landing spot as their parent company, ESPN, could afford to spend some serious money for the Cubs rights. They used to broadcast the games for the White Sox as well, so they know how to handle airing both baseball and basket ball games with conflicting schedules.
In my opinion, the Cubs returning to WGN Radio makes the most sense. They have been there for generations, and that has become a great tradition. Normally I scoff at the idea of using tradition to not do something, but I feel the Cubs connection to WGN Radio is one thing that should remain intact. Maybe that is what will be the end game of this opting out by WGN, or perhaps their wanting to renegotiate to get a cheaper price for the rights to broadcast Cubs games will bite them in the ass with the Cubs either leaving the station that help make them a household name, or by WGN Radio being forced to cough up more money than they were originally on the hook for under the original contract.
While no decision on either TV or Radio in imminent, I would expect one to come to light before the end of the current season, if not before the season even begins this April.
Many fans may be upset at the Cubs if they do in fact leave both WGN TV and Radio, but you must remember this is a business. While the fans are important to any baseball organization (and the Cubs do have the best fans in the world) this is still a business that needs to make money. When you have an opportunity to do something for the betterment of your business, you must do so. Changing networks was something that every fan should have seen coming from day one of the Tom Ricketts era when he mentioned wanting to start up a network for the Cubs. You had to know then that the Cubs partnership with WGN TV was coming to an end.
But fear not, where ever the Cubs end up on radio or TV, you can be sure that the Cubs will make sure that everyone who wants to watch or listen to Cubs games will be able to do so. After all, you cannot make money if you cannot get the games out to the fans who are the lifeblood of your organization.