SBD/February 18, 2013/Media

Cubs Pondering Departure From Longtime TV Partner WGN After '14 Season

WGN has been broadcasting Cubs games on its network since '48
The Cubs likely will "wave goodbye to their longtime TV home" after their current TV deal with WGN expires at the conclusion of the '14 season, according to Paul Sullivan of the CHICAGO TRIBUNE. Cubs Chair Tom Ricketts yesterday said, "Local media rights have been increasing in value. Hopefully at some point we will be able to get more value for our media rights. It's just something that's playing out over time." Leaving WGN would "mark the end of an era soaked in nostalgia" for the Cubs, as WGN has broadcast games since '48. Tribune Co. "steadily decreased the number of Cubs games on WGN over the years because more money could be made on cable." Now that Tribune Co. "no longer owns the team, the Rickettses have no obligation to keep the games on their station." Meanwhile, the Cubs have "explored having their own network." A source said that they have "even filmed interviews with legendary players for future use in network programming." But Ricketts when asked about those plans said, "We're still in the early stages and don't have all the options laid out" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 2/18). In Chicago, Gordon Wittenmyer notes it is "widely believed the Cubs would not have the time (nor, perhaps, the will) to grapple with such a large undertaking with so many other projects in progress." One of the potential "speed bumps" is the fact that Comcast's contract with the Cubs for most of their other games "doesn’t allow the Cubs to sell TV rights to another local cable outlet." That contract "goes through the 2019 season." The current price WGN pays the Cubs is "believed to be less than" $20M for the roughly 70 games it has each year (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 2/18).

BRENLY'S BIND: Bob Brenly was a Cubs broadcaster from '04-12 before leaving this offseason to join the D'Backs, and the CHICAGO SUN-TIMES' Wittenmyer noted Brenly "never wanted to leave Chicago." In fact, Brenly "came so close to a five-year extension with WGN-TV last fall that he and his family went out to dinner to celebrate the agreement." Brenly said, "Because of the length of the current TV contract, nobody was willing to guarantee the rest of the deal." Since the Cubs are "expected to opt out of their TV deal with WGN after the 2014 season, the network sought protection against getting stuck with guaranteed contracts and no broadcast rights." Brenly probably still would "be in Chicago if not for former Cub Mark Grace’s DUI arrest that eventually cost him his job on the D-backs’ broadcast team." Brenly, who in October signed a five-year contract with the D'Backs, added, "The Diamondbacks were in a situation where they were in dire straits in their broadcast booth. They were willing and able to guarantee into the future a lot further than the Cubs were able to" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 2/17).

OTHER TEAM ISSUES: Ricketts yesterday said that the Cubs will "not schedule more night games or add signage in 2013." He added that there has "been 'a lot of progress' with the city in negotiations over relaxing city ordinances to provide the added revenue he says will fund" the proposed $300M renovation project. The CHICAGO TRIBUNE's Sullivan reports the Cubs plan on "re-doing the clubhouses next off-season as the first part of a five-year remodeling of Wrigley Field during the off-seasons between 2013-2017" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 2/18).
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