According to 670 The Score’s Bruce Levine, the Cubs will be starting their own television network at the conclusion of the 2019 season. This is something the team has been talking about for at least the last three years and it’s been painfully evident since they cobbled together their current broadcast agreements in 2015 that something would have to change.
Exactly how this whole thing will work is not yet known, but Levine says the Cubs have hired Mike McCarthy, former president of the MSG Network and CEO of the St. Louis Blues, to carry the new network forward. This signals the end of a partnership with the White Sox, Bulls, and Blackhawks, all of whom have an equal stake with the Cubs and NBC Sports Group in NBC Sports Chicago.
Those other three teams figure to remain together in some fashion and have hired Phil Bedella, former general manager of Comcast SportsNet Chicago, to head up their own new regional sports network (RSN).
The Cubs will weigh options of partnering with a media monster like Disney or NBC — both of whom are reportedly interested — on an RSN, but they could still go it alone if that makes more sense. In the end, it all comes down to money and accessibility, probably in that order. But the Cubs do want to avoid something like the situation that sees the Dodgers getting fat paid while set up with an RSN millions of their local fans can’t get.
After five years of having their season split between NBCSN, WGN, ABC-7, and other networks, Cubs fans are clamoring for a single source through which to watch their games. One major consideration is the growing horde of cord-cutters, not to mention frequent travelers and fans outside the Cubs’ market who want a simple way to stream the broadcasts no matter where there are. Then there’s the matter of local fans who want access to the new network via their basic cable packages.
As things currently sit, the Cubs pull down about $750,000 for each of their 93 games on cable and about $200,000 for the 69 games on ABC-7 and WGN. So that’s about $69.8 million from cable and $13.8 million from terrestrial for a total haul of just under $84 million. You figure they’ll be looking for even more in a new deal, so how they are best able to monetize their coveted product is going be the top priority of McCarthy’s role.
We’ve still got a long way to go before any details are finalized regarding the specifics of a new network, but momentum is certainly building and we should learn much more in the coming months. I’d expect quite a few details to emerge at Cubs Convention in January, if not sooner.