SBD/November 7, 2013/Media

Cubs Exercise Option To Leave WGN-TV After '14 If Station Doesn't Increase Rights Fees

WGN-TV earns the Cubs about $20M in annual broadcast rights fees
The Cubs on Tuesday decided to "exercise an option to leave WGN-TV after next season -- unless the broadcaster agrees to pay up," according to Robert Channick of the CHICAGO TRIBUNE. Sources said that the team notified the Tribune Co.-owned station that it "had 30 days to agree to substantially higher fees for the 2015 season and beyond, or the broadcast rights would be opened up for negotiation." The move also "shortens the duration of the agreement to 2019, lopping three years off the existing deal." If Tribune Co. "doesn't step up to the plate, the team is free to explore other broadcast options for about 70 games televised each season by WGN." Industry experts "believe the Cubs are positioning themselves to eventually create a network, but they won't be entirely free to do so for at least six years." Sources said that the Cubs earn about $60M combined in "annual broadcast rights fees" for its games "split between Comcast SportsNet Chicago and WGN," with $20M coming from the latter. The Cubs' deal with CSN Chicago runs through '19 and while their deal with WGN is through '22, the option "reset the agreement for a five-year term" after '14. The Cubs' broadcast and cable rights will sync up in '19, "giving the team a target date and its full slate of games to potentially form a cable sports network." Sources said that CSN Chicago could "create an expanded channel to air the additional 70 games, but it is unlikely to pay up for the broadcast rights to do so." Sources also said that WGN would "like to retain the Cubs rights," at least through '19. But it is "unclear if the Cubs fit into Tribune Co.'s plans to remake superstation WGN America into a national cable network with original programming" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 11/7).

END OF AN ERA? In Chicago, Mark Potash writes, "In today’s market, with the Cubs in need of maximizing every revenue stream possible, it's possible a new deal could be too rich for WGN’s blood." That would be "a shame to those of us who grew up" with late Cubs announcers Jack Brickhouse, Lloyd Pettit and Harry Caray, and former Cubs analyst Steve Stone. The "reality is that times have changed" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 11/7).

LEAVING THE DEN: WGN-AM in a statement yesterday announced that Cubs radio color analyst Keith Moreland is "leaving after three seasons to devote more time to his family." In Chicago, Mark Gonzales noted Moreland "joined the Cubs' radio team with play-by-play broadcaster Pat Hughes" in February '11. The release "did not indicate the time table for a successor" (CHICAGOTRIBUNE.com, 11/6). Moreland said that his decision "was unrelated to the uncertainty over WGN's radio future with the Cubs." His original contract "expired Oct. 31" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 11/7).
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