How Will Fans in Blackout Areas Watch the Cubs? (Updated with 2017 Broadcast Partners)

If you’d like the updated 2017 list of broadcast partners for Cubs games, click here. If you’d like to read some old stuff about how and why the Cubs do what they do with the hodgepodge TV schedule, feel free to continue.


As you’re already aware by now, the Cubs have reached a deal with WGN to continue their long-running broadcast partnership for another five years, carrying 45 games per season. Trouble is, that deal only applies to Channel 9, and not WGN America, which has opted to get out of the sports broadcasting business.

No, the Superstation, in its infinite wisdom, has seen fit to go with a notably different set of programming. Rather than continue to cater to mouth-breathing troglodytes like those of us who would tune into watch the Cubs, Bulls, Blackhawks, and, yes, even the White Sox, good ol’ WGN is going high-brow on us.

And it’s not just with shows like Manhattan and Salem either. With its newest effort, WGN-TV is seeking to throw its hat into the ring with heavyweights like AMC and HBO.

Wrestling With Death is a “A unique family docuseries, WGN America’s first unscripted series introduces you to the world of The Lathams; morticians by day who run The Wilson Funeral Home in Osceola, Arkansas and professional wrestlers by night who run The Mid-Southern Championship Wrestling League.”

Well, maybe they’re trying to keep the White Sox fans after all. Just kidding, guys, you know I love you. I must admit that the part of me still dominated by my medula oblongata has a desire to watch this, much the same way I’m morbidly drawn to the Deadspin post about the 200-car pileup in Michigan.

But enough about that. I can question the decision all I want, but nothing will change the fact that I find myself in a market that doesn’t pull a signal from WGN-9 but that is restricted, needlessly and ignorantly so, by MLB’s blackout restrictions. This extends to their MLB.TV service as well, so I reached out to inquire as to any potential changes in said service.

From my email to the MLB.com Executive Team:

As you may be aware, the changing landscape of the Cubs’ TV coverage means that many out-of-market fans will be left without the ability to view approximately 50 games in the 2015 season.

Longtime partner WGN will only be broadcasting 45 games locally and another local station, WCIU, has traditionally carried a few games as well. Given their nationwide audience, this is a big deal for many Cubs fans, specifically those in the no-man’s-land of the Midwest. Those fans in more far-flung areas can subscribe to MLB.TV and and watch their team, but many (myself included) are left in a lurch due to the blackout rules currently in place.

I understand the intent of the rules, though I’m sure you must know as well as I do that they’re not actually effective at increasing attendance. If anything, they actually impede the consumption of MLB’s product, given that those folks in the blackout zone can neither attend in person nor view via your subscription service. I am aware, however, that the FCC struck down the NFL’s blackout rules and I wanted to see whether the same is true for MLB and your .tv service.

Furthermore, I would like to encourage you to offer configurable single-team or a la carte options for those viewers who might not want to buy the full package. For instance, maybe there’s a way for me to purchase a Cubs-only plan. Or perhaps you could organize a non-national plan that would allow someone to subscribe at a discounted rate for those games that will only be carried on local television.

I realize that it’s entirely possible for the intent of one’s words to be misinterpreted by a given reader, but I thought I was making it at least reasonably clear that I was referring to the MLB.TV subscription service. So I suppose I shouldn’t have been too surprised when I received the following response:

Dear Evan:

Thank you for sending your email.

Unfortunately, we have no information about cable or network blackouts of Major League Baseball games. We sincerely apologize for the confusion, as we are only able to answer questions regarding the blackout restrictions for our MLB.TVproduct.

Please keep in mind that the broadcast rights are applicable whether or not a specific game is being shown, and must be protected even if the rights holders choose not to broadcast the games.

For more information on MLB.TV blackouts, you may visit our video page at http://mlb.mlb.com/NASApp/mlb/mlb/video/mlb_tv.jsp.

Thank you again for taking the time to write.

Sincerely,

Customer Response Team

MLB.com

Okay, so that’s, well…not helpful at all. There was, however, a distinct silver lining to this cloud in the form of the embedded link, which actually led to a “404 Error” page. But I’ll give it to MLB.com, they’ve done a great job dressing it up. You can click it if you like, but you might find it easier to just scroll down to the end of the post (after you’ve read the rest of it, of course).

But just to prime your imagination’s pump, it’s a gif of Tommy Lasorda assaulting the Phillie Phanatic with what appears to be his own effigy doll. How have I not seen this before? Still, despite the hilarity, I was without answer to my question and sent a quick reply to indicate such.

MLB’s next response contained a working link that included the following information:

  • •If you are an MLB.TV subscriber within an area subject to a regular season blackout, the applicable game will be available as an archived game approximately 90 minutes after the conclusion of the game.

So all I have to do is wait until 11:30pm or so to watch a 3-hour game that I already know the result of? Sweet, I’m in! In all seriousness though, if you are not necessarily interested in watching every other MLB team, catching Pat and Ron on WBBM 780AM (feels really weird to think/say/type that).

Given the changing nature of broadcasting, it seems like a no-brainer for MLB to amend their archaic and ineffective blackout restrictions. Just in case you weren’t aware, the reasoning behind blackouts is to entice fans to buy tickets so that they won’t miss their favorite team’s games.

But in the case of MLB.tv, “Home television territory blackout restrictions apply regardless of whether a Club is home or away and regardless of whether or not a game is televised in a Club’s home television territory.”

Love it, that’s awsome, MLB. Makes total sense that fan in, say, Bloomington, IN who lives 4 1/2 hours away would drive to each of the 225 games that will be carried on WGN over the next handful of years. Or that someone from Des Moines, IA would hop a quick flight to Denver to see their team play the Rockies on a Wednesday evening.

I guess it could be worse though. Just look at the map below detailing the various blackout regions for the various MLB franchises. For instance, both Mariners fans in Montana are totally boned when it comes to watching their team online (as if dial-up service is capable of handling the stream anyway).

Enough beating around the bush, just answer the titular question, you idiot. How will fans in blackout areas watch the Cubs? In short, they won’t. Okay, how can they watch the team in 2015? The only sure way is to move to the Chicagoland area. Or find some kind of program that can mask or mirror an IP address from outside the blackout region (not that I’m endorsing such a strategy).

And if reading all of this just to have me give you a snarky, smart-ass answer has gotten your dander up, you can feel free to channel that righteous indignance in a constructive manner by hammering MLB.com with requests to change their rules.

I’ve seen many comments over the past couple of years from people who would consider subscribing to MLB.TV but who find either the blackouts or the cost to be prohibitive. I have to believe that a tailored solution like the one above would be a nice little win-win for both MLB and the legions of viewers impacted by the Cubs’ reduced national broadcast footprint.

As Ryan Davis noted in an earlier post on this same topic, it’s possible that various local stations throughout the blackout area could pick up the missing broadcasts on a syndicated basis. It’s certainly an interesting notion, but one that is most likely to impact those only just outside WGN’s immediate reach.

How about the rest of you who will be impacted by this predicament? Will you just stream the radio broadcasts online with MLB.com’s Gameday Audio (this has been my go-to for the past few years; no blackouts) or will you try to skirt the rules somehow? Will you turn your back on the team or will you simply make more trips to the ballpark?

It’s a pretty frustrating quandary at this point, and one that I’m not sure will resolve itself in the favor of those of us who have little option but to grin and baby bear it. In the meantime, I guess I can take 1180 off of my U-verse favorites and turn my radio preset six notches to the right.

And if I’ve left you feeling down about your inability to watch the Cubs this summer, just spend a few moments watching Lasorda accost this poor mascot.

***UPDATE: The Cubs have announced a full list of local affiliate TV stations that will be carrying most or all of the games that are being broadcast on WGN-9 and ABC-7. Click previous link to see when and where you can find the games in your area.***

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42 Comments

  1. I am confounded as to how television territories are established and markets determined. I’ll give a good example using hockey since Milwaukee doesn’t have an NHL franchise.

    I live exactly 98 miles from Chicago, and about 55 miles north of the Cheddar Curtain. I am in a suburb just north of Milwaukee. I live 337 miles from Mineapolis/St. Paul, home of the fabulous W-W-W-Wild.

    The NHL has deemed that I am subject to Minneapolis blackout restrictions rather than Chicago blackout restrictions. I am perfectly fine with that though I do understand your pain. There is no rhyme or reason. I still make 5-10 Blackhawks games per year and I don’t mind the Amtrak to Chicago. There’s bar service and usually attractive women going both ways (on the train, mind out of the gutter NOW!)

    Because we have the Brewers, I actually get the Cubs on MLB.TV so I will offer you a proposal of sorts. If you pay 50% of my subscription service this season plus a small per game fee, I will face my iMac toward my LED Office TV (36″ – not a bad set, it’s a Samsung) and I can Skype you the games. Two drawbacks for you: the picture may not be as crystal clear as it is for me, and, when I take business calls I may have to mute the TV. But hey, beggars can’t be choosers.

    I actually think I can circumvent the copyright laws because I am not officially broadcasting the live feed. I am merely telecommunicating, and oh hey, by the way, the Cubs game just happens to be playing IN PLAIN SIGHT. I think I am also in the clear even if a number of your readers also decide to take part in this fabulous offer. In my business we call that a conference call.

    Of course I will be charging extra for games designated as Prime Games, late night West Coast games, Interleague Games and all games featuring opponents in the NL Central. But, in the spirit of fair business practices, no charge for games against the Rockies, Mets, Braves and Marlins, A’s, Rays or Astros. Unfortunately, games against the Brewers are blacked out unless they are on local TV.

  2. WOW that’s nice. Been watching them on WGN since I was 7 so now that the money is big and its time to up the ante and pay for some free agents they black it out around here…….guess I’ll check the ticker every night, hope they are on the Fox national Saturday game and Sunday night ESPN once in a while so I can learn the players names. Yet the Reds are Closer to us and every one of their game in on here and I can’t get Comcast Chicago on my Comcast cable, gotta love it.

  3. Another sly little trick a friend clued me in to: Slingbox. My parents live on the other side of the blackout wall and get WGN-9, so I could hook up a Slingbox to their TV and watch the games via the app from my house.

    Seems to me that MLB would once again be better off fixing it so that I could pay for their service, rather than pay someone else to circumvent their archaic laws. Fitting that I also live in Indiana, where I can’t buy booze on Sunday either.

  4. I had forgotten about Slingbox, but had thought about it in the past. As you stated, the tricky part is actually having someone on the other side willing to set one up.

    “Or find some kind of program that can mask or mirror an IP address from outside the blackout region (not that I’m endorsing such a strategy).”

    This is not illegal, but a legitimate strategy in my opinion. All one need to do is buy a VPN service such as “https://www.hidemyass.com/”. I don’t necessarily endorse this one, as I don’t currently have a VPN, but I see it mentioned frequently.

    I don’t believe that a VPN is too difficult to use. Set up the software and specify which geographic location that you want the server to use, hence lifting geographic restrictions.

    Again, this is not illegal if that is a concern for anyone. You do pay for the number of months you want access to the server.

  5. This is unbelievable ! I live in Ventura Co. California , lifelong Cubs fan , first I pay
    extra for Chicago Comcast sports net. on the AT&T 450 plan, which is the most expensive plan, plus MLB.com. but the Cubs games are blacked out, (channel 1741)
    Now I cannot watch the cubbies on WGN. The MLB. signal here is weak and
    sometimes shuts down due to a weak signal.
    I wish the Cubs brass would make it easier to watch the Cubs on the local
    Chicago channels to appease the fans here in CA.

  6. I think you’re mistaken about the point behind the blackout rules. It’s not to encourage game attendance. It’s to encourage cable subscriptions so you can get whatever channel covers the team. Channels pay a lot to cover these games and need subscribers to sell to advertisers. Of course this doesn’t help when one lives in an area that is blacked out yet doesn’t have the channel available on their local cable system. Pretty sure this is much more important than attendance in this whole equation.

    1. In many sports, games are blacked out when they aren’t sold out. The rules are indeed in place to protect local channels as well, but they’re archaic and not applicable given today’s media consumption. Consider that the blackout regions stretch far beyond the broadcast range of any standard local terrestrial signal.

  7. Question. Can you watch the Cubs on MLB on the computer by using the feed from the team they are playing if you aren’t in their blackout area?

    1. I believe they use the IP address to determine which games you can watch. See quote regarding this in the post, but the service knows where you are accessing the feed from.

  8. HOLA is an app and browser plugin that will show MLB.com WHATEVER nation you want to pretend you are watching from. No geography blackouts. Ever.

    Have been using it for 3 years and couldn’t be more pleased – https://hola.org/

  9. We does the author assume the games won’t be available? It is quite likely that WGN and ABC 7 are working right now to build a network of local stations within their MLB market. The are paying for the rights. It makes sense that they will want to get the games to the whole market if the there were other stations on the Cubs network and that was done by WGN. For example, the WCIU games were carried on the MY TV network station in South Bend.

  10. Another clarification… WGN did not announce that they no longer will carry sports. The announced that they would no longer carry local sports. We may well see them bidding for some sports for a national game of the week like TBS did. It just won’t be covering one local team.

    1. Thanks for the clarification, Darrel, but I think you’re missing the thrust of my post. You can feel free to address me directly too; I’m usually on here. As for your first point though, I would point to where I wrote, “it’s possible that various local stations throughout the blackout area could pick up the missing broadcasts on a syndicated basis.”

      While you may be correct on the second point, I’m reasonably sure that Cubs/Sox/Bulls/Blackhawks fans won’t really care that WGN is carrying national broadcasts of other teams.

  11. A couple of thoughts:
    1. I have an MLB.TV subscription (via Extra Innings on Direct TV) , and live in a blackout region (central Indiana). For reasons I cannot fathom, the Cubs are never blacked out on my Ipad (in fact, no teams are blacked out when I access MLB.TV on my Ipad). But the Cubs, Reds, and Chisox are blacked out on my PC’s, very odd.
    2. Direct TV has a “game mix” channel that shows 8 games at once. They don’t black out anything on this channel. So I can watch the Cubs on that. Guess I’ll set up a lawn chair and a cooler of beer about five feet from the TV so I can actually see it.
    3. Maybe someday we’ll be able to buy beer on Sunday in Indiana.

    1. That’s an interesting thought, BDItL. Is it something with the IP address for the iPad, perhaps the fact that it’s a mobile device? Or is it an Apple thing? Food for though, pun intended.

      The DirecTV deal is nice, but I’m assuming you’re getting that without the sound. Is it on a delay that would make having the radio broadcast playing a little weird?

      As to your final thought, a state senator from Shelbyville has sponsored a bill to remove the silly Sunday sales restriction. This has been proposed several times before, but has always come up against strong opposition from the liquor store lobby. The difference this time around is increased support for the bill by the supermarkets, most of which now carry an increasing selection of craft beer.

  12. Evan, I live in Indianapolis so have exactly the problem you describe. What email address did you use to write the MLB.com executive team. I’d like to chime in myself. Thanks.

      1. Not sure if anyone is still following this thread, but I got an unhelpful automated reply from the mlb1 address. I responded, and then received a phone call. The rep on the call was nice, but had no new information. He suggested I write to the mlbexecutiverelations address, which I had already done. No one from that address has replied.

        I’ve read several articles about this topic suggesting that the Cubs are trying to reach agreements with local affiliates for the WGN/WLS games, but I’m not optimistic. Will look into HOLA, per PolitiJim’s comment, though I believe there is a charge for using the app or plug-in.

        1. The Cubs did say at the convention that they’ll ask MLB to lift blackout restrictions if they aren’t successful in their efforts to syndicate the WGN broadcasts. The issue with that is the definition of “successful.” I’m relatively sure no station in the Indy market will be picking up WGN broadcasts, but I remain in the blackout region. Ideally, the team will have a hybrid effort that seeks to lift blackout restrictions in the markets left unserved by local TV and other MLB products.

  13. I had a few questions about the HOLA thing. Does anyone have any instructions on how to set this up or how difficult it is? I am not exactly a genius at this kind of tech stuff and reading it from the site seems confusing. I, like several on this post live in Indy and subscribe to MLB.tv regardless of if I get Cubs games or not. Currently i am restriced to having Brighthouse TV at my apt which does not carry CSN Chicago period. As it stands now i will get zero Cubs games other than the national broadcasts. I am used to watching…well most of the 162 a season, big loss for me. Just looking for a little help or guidance on how to set one of these up and how difficult it is. Also i would like to watch MLB.tv through my Roku on an actual tv, is this possible with a VPN or this HOLA thing? Note on someone earliers thing about getting games in Indy on Ipad, I lived in Indy 2 years ago and found that there was one zip code in Indy that wasnt subject to blackout. Even if you typed in the zip on the mlb.tv site that shows what teams are blacked out it didnt show anyone. Think its is more a strange anomaly than anything else. I have also looked into “Unlocator” sounds similar to HOLA but will also apprecaite any info on that anyone has.

  14. I grew up in the Chicagoland area and watched Cubs games every summer. (When tv was free…I love the 80s) It was on our tv like a radio on in the car. Now I live near Indianapolis and have two boys (12 and 11 yrs old) who play in little league. They love the game. But with this Blackout issue….Cubs are losing us as fans fast. My kids don’t ask for a Cubs shirts, hat or even tickets. Out of sight….out of mind. Can we just have a fuzzy channel without the extras like instant replay or hit us with more commercials. Or what if we give up color….I see only solutions here. 🙂

    1. It’s definitely a different time now, isn’t it? Keep in mind that we didn’t have all the extra channels, Netflix, the internet, or various other alternatives that are readily available. It’s nice for me to think that I’d have chosen the Cubs game over something else that was really cool, but the truth of the matter is that the competition consisted mainly of soap operas when we were kids. There were no home night games and even a lot of the away games were played in the afternoon.

      Honestly, our best option is basically the opposite of a shift back to those good ol’ days (and don’t get me wrong, I loved that time; my favorite childhood memories involve watching games). A Cubs Network would consolidate game broadcasts and give fans the opportunity to watch Cubs programming in the same place every day. Sure, it would come at a cost and would stop people from stumbling across my post here, but I think a monthly fee is nominal in exchange for the hassle of trying to figure out where the game is being shown and/or missing out on several games throughout the year.

      My kids are only 8 and 6 and they certainly don’t see the Cubs the same way I did, either literally or figuratively. They’re watching in hi-def on a 60″ screen instead of having to ask their grandpap to adjust the antenna on the tower in the backyard and they haven’t yet developed that love for the team. But I took the extreme route, naming them after the Cubs in some form and indoctrinating them to an extent, so I’m probably not the best example in that regard.

      I hope this post gave you a little more info and at least we’ve got WISH and WNDY carrying some of the games now. That sort of feels a little WGN-ish to me.

      1. Hi Evan. Wondering if you had any new tips or tricks for finding a way to watch the Cubs in 2016. I just came across this post from 2015 and wondered if you had found some magical solution since then, ha! I am located in the Indy area. Thank you!

        1. There’s really no magic bullet, but I’d recommend checking out the early link in the article for the broadcast partners. WISH-TV and WNDY here in Indy will carry 45 games or something, and a majority of the remainder will be on CSN or CSN+ if you have those channels on the cable provider you subscribe to. If you don’t have a cable provider, you’re kind of up a creek at this point. MLB.TV streams the games, but you can’t get the Cubs since you’re considered in-network. You can, however, subscribe to a service called Unlocater that masks your IP address in order to allow you to get MLB.TV without the pesky blackouts. If you go that route, there is a single-team option that allows you to get just the Cubs games and not the other 29 teams’ games. Finally, you can listen to the games on 670AM out of Chicago. That’s the flagship station now and it’s powerful enough to pick up pretty clearly at least as far south as Bloomington. You can also subscribe to the MLB Audio feed through MLB.com for $19.99. You get the Cubs feed with no blackouts and you can listen on the computer or on your phone via the MLB At-Bat app. I have U-Verse, so I have CSN and CSN+, not to mention WNDY and WISH. I also have the audio subscription.

  15. Why oh why in central Indiana we get the NY vs Wash game and NOT the Cubs vs Detroit????? we will just become Cincinnati fans as we get most of their games. Bye bye Cubs after 60 years + as fans. Who makes this decision at Comcast. MLB or Comcast or Cubs to not show the cub games in our area (200 miles away). Traditions die hard but got to believe The Cubs just don’t need us to follow them. Sure miss WGN! Cubs use to have fans all over the US but that won’t continue. What are you thinking???

  16. It’s a sin for Comcast to not carry the Cob baseball games. If Comcast is not at fault, I apologize. But then who is?

    1. John, it’s a pretty complicated deal. CSN Chicago only has rights to some of the games, while the rest are split between ABC-7 and WGN (along with the FOX and ESPN national broadcasts). CSN has never had a full slate of games, but WGN Superstation’s decision to stop airing sports is what led to this fiasco. Cable providers are the least of the problem here, as it’s the individual stations that bear the bulk of the blame.

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  18. I have gotten some great info from this site so thank you I’m still trying to figure some of this out myself it frustrates me so much how hard they make it now to be a cubs fan both my wife and I are diehard cub fans and because of careers now live in las vegas NV we pay dish network extra money to have wgn here and now the games are no longer televised on there so we can only watch them on ESPN and national telecasts in the area what I don’t understand is how we can’t get the blacked out games here on our home tv but every sports book in town can get them so how can they do it and normal people can’t also why can’t we get wgn9 through dish network instead of wgn America it’s through a satellite it shouldn’t matter how far you live from the local area

    1. Rick,

      First, you might want your keyboard checked because I think the comma and period keys are broken. Joking aside, it’s all about the regulations of offering programming in areas governed by blackout and locality regulations. WGN-9 is a local station only and WGN Superstation is the version that anyone outside of Chicagoland gets. Thing is, Superstation decided a couple years ago that it would no longer carry any sports, which means Cubs, Sox, Hawks, and Bulls were all shifted to local-only. Many regional stations entered agreements with WGN-9 and ABC-7 to syndicate those Cubs and Sox games (and the other teams too, though I haven’t researched them as well) locally to their audiences.

      What you’re seeing in sports books is likely the MLB Extra Innings package, which you should be able to purchase through Dish. You can also buy MLB.TV in either the full (109.99) or single-team ($84.99) versions to have all the Cubs games. If you do that, you might want to cut back your TV package to remove WGN and save some of that money. Given your location, you might also want to pay the extra $10 for the Follow Your Team option, which allows you to watch the Cubs even when they play teams for which you are blacked out. I don’t recommend it for everyone, but LV is considered in-market for the Giants, A’s, Dodgers, Angels, and D-backs. The FYT option isn’t available yet, but will be by the All-Star Game. The Cubs have 15 games against those respective teams in the second half of the season, so it might be worthwhile.

      The other option is to get the MLB Audio subscription through the At-Bat app. It’s only $20 annually and has no blackouts, so you can listen to Pat and Ron every game. I have that because I live inside the Cubs blackout region and can’t get MLB.TV without use of an IP-masking service. And one of my local stations picks up the WGN games anyway, so I really don’t need to pay to get them. I hope this helps.

  19. It’s the 2nd game of the freaking playoffs, stupid MLB has the Cubs blacked out with their ridiculous rules and on the other free channels are 3 idiotic college football games, a lot of crappy tv shows and the beginning game of the Bulls. What is wrong with these morons?? Who in the Chicago area is watching any of that crap??? I’ve been forced for the 1st AND the 2nd game to listen on the radio, pathetic way to treat their fans, both MLB and the Cubs.

    1. The Cubs don’t have any say in the matter, as this has nothing to do with their broadcast contracts. I can’t really say much since I have both FS1 and MLBN, but I still ended up going out to watch both. I know most of the major carriers did a free preview of MLBN for Saturday’s game, which doesn’t matter for cord-cutters.

  20. We live in Ohio and have always been Cubs fans. This year we have been able to see only a few Cubs games on TV dur to blackout. The the day I came across the “blackout map” and with all the colors which show which teams are blacked out in which area. To my surprise and dismay, in Ohio only Cleveland and Cincinnati have black out areas. None of Ohio is shown as blacked out for Cubs games. Why then can’t we see the Cubs games. We are over 200 miles from Chicago and are no causing a drop in ticket sales.

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