The conclusion of the 2019 season brought an end to the fractured Cubs broadcast schedule that has seen fans searching for the right channel every night for the last five years. While there’ll be no shortage of grousing, understandably so, about WGN no longer being a partner, fans outside Chicagoland will benefit from Marquee Sports Net carrying nearly every game moving forward.
If their local cable provider carries the channel, that is. Many of those negotiations will continue to play out over the next few months, but AT&T announced last month that it would have Marquee on all of its nationwide providers. That means DirecTV, DirecTV Now, and U-Verse customers will get their fill of Cubs content when Marquee launches in February.
Meanwhile, the network’s brass will be working overtime to hire on-air talent and production staff in short order. At the top of that list is the broadcast duo of Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies, who’ve been calling Cubs games together for the past seven seasons. In his inside story of Maquee’s launch ($), Patrick Mooney reports that there is “no doubt” the pair will be retained but that the network “is still in the process of finalizing deals.”
That’s an important step for the new network to establish a firm continuity from what was to what will be, especially since Sinclair Broadcasting, the Cubs’ partner in the venture, doesn’t engender much goodwill on its own. Even with games being shown on WGN, ABC 7, and NBC Sports Chicago, the only thing that changed about the team in the booth was their polo shirts. Now they can pare back their wardrobes for the roughly 150 games Marquee will house and fans have an immediate familiarity.
“They are coming back, for sure,” Mike McCarthy, Marquee’s general manager said. “They are going to be the play-by-play and color guy here. And everything else we’re talking about is enhancing that reality.”
That’s very good news after long-running rumors that management might be looking to replace Deshaies with former Cub and part-time comedian Ryan Dempster. There’s frequently been a disconnect, maybe more often than not, between what the Cubs’ business ops team thinks fans want and what the fans really do want. Putting Dempster in the booth might placate a small segment of the populace, but it could have been disastrous on the whole.
That doesn’t mean Marquee will be devoid of the occasional impression of Will Ferrell doing an impression of Harry Caray, though, as Dempster is still expected to be involved in a meaningful way. The most obvious role would be as host of a late-night talk show similar to the event he’s headlined on the Friday evening of Cubs Convention the last few years. Basically, Dempster will be Marquee’s version of Jimmy Kimmel or Jimmy Fallon.
Other names to watch include Dan Plesac, Mark DeRosa, and Doug Glanville, all of whom have worked in local and national TV and have strong ties to the Cubs. According to Mike Santini, who was just announced as Marquee’s head of programming and production, “there’s going to be some fun little surprises that we’ll make people aware of in the next couple months.”
Expect most of those surprises to be unveiled at Cubs Convention in January, though some of the talent and programming info may become clear between now and then. Speaking of which, Marquee plans to broadcast every Cubs spring training game, a huge improvement over the spotty slate from the past few seasons. Stay tuned for more information as it becomes available.