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HOLY COW! WGN SCALES BACK CUBS BROADCASTS DUE TO "ECONOMICS"
Published January 29, 1998
WGN-TV will televise 92 Cubs games during the '98 season -- about 50 fewer than last year, according to Hirsley & Jones of the CHICAGO TRIBUNE. The station "characterized the decision as TV baseball history squeezed by TV baseball economics: The Cubs need to be taken off WGN at times for their own good." Hirsley & Jones: "Lower-rated baseball broadcasts need to be replaced by higher-rated entertainment shows so those programs can generate more ad revenues to pay higher baseball bills as the cost of fielding a competitive team continues to escalate." While Cubs games averaged a 4.7 rating last season, programs like "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Dawson's Creek" receive higher ratings. Most of the games taken off WGN will be moved to CLTV, the Cubs' local cable partner, also owned by Tribune Co. But Hirsley & Jones note that CLTV's signal "doesn't reach beyond the immediate Chicago area," and added that "about" 30% of Chicago-area viewers don't have cable. Tribune Broadcasting Co. President Dennis FitzSimons: "Ultimately, the Cubs have to be competitive in terms of revenue they can generate for telecast rights if they're going to put a competitive team on the field." FitzSimons "stressed" that WGN still will carry more MLB games than any over-the-air station this year. FitzSimons: "Advertising budgets are not designed to support a 140-game (broadcast) schedule. There's a reason why no other (non-cable) station is carrying  games" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 1/29). Also in Chicago, Dave Van Dyck writes, "Where the Cubs will be hurt is in the marketing of a team that built itself through ivy- walled, sunny afternoon baseball on free TV." In addition to Cubs games, WGN will show 52 White Sox games and "several" end-of-season Bulls games (SUN-TIMES, 1/29). AND BUFFY? Cubs broadcaster Harry Caray, on being replaced by programming like "Buffy": "Well, hell, I'm more attractive than Buffy. ... Oh yeah. She's a gorgeous hunk of a woman. She may be good-looking, but she doesn't have anything to do with baseball" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 1/29).