Wednesday, November 6, 2013

WGN doesn't matter anymore to the Cubs

It was announced today that the Cubs will be opting out of their contract with WGN after the 2014 season.  WGN basically has 30 days to work out a deal with the Cubs that will keep 70 or so games on the station before the Cubs become "free agents" so to speak.  No one should expect that to happen, though.

The fact is that since the Cubs and WGN last signed an agreement, which was to last until 2022, the landscape has changed significantly in terms of television rights around baseball.  The 25 year, $7 billion contract the Dodgers agreed to for their TV rights is the high mark right now...and leaves the $20 million per season the Cubs are getting from WGN looking like chump change.

In total, with Comcast, the Cubs bring in about $60 million per season from TV rights.  If the Dodgers start bringing in just under $300 million a season for their rights (and other teams following not too far behind), the Cubs had no choice but to opt out of their deal with WGN.

People seem to be up in arms about the likelihood that the Cubs may no longer be on WGN.  I'm not sure why.  Assuming that the Cubs either start their own station or do something with Comcast to broadcast all their games, the Cubs will still be available locally to everyone.

Nationally, WGN helped generate Cubs fans all over the country in the 80's.  To a lesser degree, the Mets on WOR and the Braves on TBS achieved the same thing.  WOR has ceased to being much of a superstation (and the Mets have since moved on too) and TBS gave up exclusively broadcasting Braves games years ago.

The truth is, baseball is readily available to fans out of market now weather it is online with MLB.TV, or on cable via ESPN, TBS or MLB Network...and there are package deals with many cable companys as well as Dish Network and DirecTV.  Most teams now have some degree of national exposure.

If that wasn't enough to reduce the importance of having games on WGN, the fact is that WGN, as a superstation, is a disaster right now.  With only 70 games a year on the station and those 70 games seemingly randomly placed on the schedule, along with no other programming on the WGN schedule to draw people to the station and lead them into Cubs broadcasts, the games on WGN just don't have the influence over national audiences that they once did.

In the 80's WGN was one of about a dozen cable channels available, and with TBS and WOR, one of the few places to see baseball everyday.  Baseball is everywhere now.  WGN is not helping the Cubs build a national fan base now like it did back then when they have to compete with all the other teams on a daily basis.

Tribune Company just recently emerged from bankruptcy and the company is in the process of splitting off its broadcasting division into a separate company.  On top of that, WGN America is in a state of transition as they attempt to turn the station into something closer to what TBS has become.  Whispers have been going around that the Cubs and Comcast may be in negotiations for an extended TV deal that would supersede their current deal resulting in something along the lines of 20 years and around $4 billion.  For WGN to compete with that, they would have to give about $1.5 billion for their share of the games over the next 20 years.  I don't see them being able to do that in the state of transition that exists at Tribune Company right now.

Why should the Cubs settle for less to be broadcast on a station that really doesn't have that much influence nationally anymore?

Unfortunately for many Cubs fans nationwide, we might have to accept the Cubs not being as accessible anymore...but it isn't really that big of a loss with the Cubs likely to be on national broadcasts at least 25 to 30 times a year anyway.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Sitting in my car 15 years ago today

Fifteen years ago today I got home from classes at noon and sat down to eat lunch in my apartment.  I began listening to the Cubs game on the radio.  Kerry Wood was pitching.  About midway through the game, I had to leave for 45 minute drive.  I listened to every pitch.  I pulled into the parking lot at work just as the 9th inning was about to begin.  I sat in my car listening to the game completely unconcerned about being late for work.

The half inning took very little time to complete with Wood dominating a very good Astros lineup.

My heart was racing as Pat Hughes made the call on that final pitch to Derek Bell.  It was over.  I ran inside, saw the two other Cubs fans that I had worked with on the factory floor and told them that he did it.  I was shaking with excitement.

For many Cubs fans, this was almost like the moon'll never forget what you were doing when it happened.

I got to see Kerry Wood pitch at Wrigley a few weeks later, still in the infant stages of that great and memorable Cubs season.  The ballpark was packed that afternoon.  The legend of Kerry Wood had begun a few weeks earlier and I wanted to see him first hand.

Happy 15 year anniversary of Kerry Wood's 20 strikeout game, perhaps the most dominating pitching performance in Major League history.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Ricketts is making the wrong threat.

The Cubs released rendering and details about their proposed renovation or, in their words, restoration of Wrigley last night.

First off, the term restoration is about as stupid as saying Carlos Marmol is a good closer.  It's not a restoration.  If it was, they'd be tearing the lights down, removing the press box and putting bleachers back in the batters' eye area of center field.

It's not a restoration.  It's a renovation...a renovation along the same lines of what was done with Fenway Park and Royals Stadium.

But that's not the point of this post.

Tom Ricketts today finally made a threat to move the team if they do not get their way as far as these renovations are concern.

What's the point?

No, I'm serious.  At this time, what the hell is the point of threatening to move?

Is there something we don't know here?

Supposedly both Tom Tunney and City Hall have agreed to the changes.  They don't need anything else.  The rest of the "approval" process should, for the most part, be routine.

Why make the threat now?  It would have been help for them if they had made it years ago.  Now?  Unless there is some process that we don't know about standing in the way, the threat is not only empty, but completely pointless.

They don't need to threaten to move.  The Cubs are going to get their renovation.

The real question is when can they start their renovation.  Time is quickly ticking for the Cubs to be able to start this renovation following this season.

The Cubs are in a situation where they need all parties involved to rubber stamp this thing so it can get started in short order.

The correct threat the Cubs should be making right now isn't to move the team permanently to some place like Rosemont.  The threat should be to move the Cubs out of Wrigley for a season so they can complete the renovations by the date they want.

Ricketts should be threatening to move the team to U.S. Cellular Field or Miller Park for a season.  

You want something that is taken seriously?  That's it.  You want something that will get the rooftop owners on board quickly?  That's it.  Slightly obstructed views will affect a small number of rooftops and will only have a marginal affect on their sales.

Temporarily relocating for season?  You can bet a majority of those rooftops will go bankrupt if the team moves out of the stadium for a year.  Most of them are in situations of narrow revenue margins already.  No Cubs baseball at Wrigley for one season would be devastating 

That will shut up just about all the critics of this renovation plan in very short order, and is much more effective than some bull crap threat to move the team to Rosemont.

Friday, April 5, 2013

How much could the rooftops sue the Cubs for?

The rooftop owners are threatening to sue the Cubs over any renovation deal where their views of the ballpark may be obstructed.

I've stated before that the rooftop owners will do anything in their power to fight renovations of any kind.

The rooftop association released this statement today:

The apparent decision to allow the Chicago Cubs to block the views of some Wrigleyville Rooftops is in direct violation of the current 20-year agreement entered into by the Cubs and the Rooftop owners. While Rooftop owners support the concept of renovating Wrigley Field, exact plans for outfield signage have not been provided to these contractual partners.

The in-force contract negotiated by federal mediators which enumerates revenue sharing between the Cubs and their neighbors – along with the accompanying landmark ordinance – protects the “uninterrupted sweep of the bleachers” until at least 2024. Any construction that interrupts the Rooftop views will effectually drive them out of business and be challenged in a court of law.

How much could the rooftops really sue the Cubs for?

Basically, a judge would have to decided how much monetarily the video board and any other advertisements would affect sales of rooftop seats.

My argument is that obstructed views would not affect the rooftop businesses significantly.  The rooftops would, though, be majorly affected by the other renovations being done to the the Cubs add the amenities that only the rooftops currently provide.  But putting that aside, we first need to look at how many rooftops would be significantly affected by the video board and any advertisements.  In left field, only the Beyond The Ivy rooftop on, Waveland at the corner of Sheffield, would be horribly affected by a video board.  I should add that this rooftop structure was built after the 2004 agreement the Cubs had with the rooftop owners.  Perhaps one other rooftop in left field would be significantly affected by the board.

In right field, perhaps two rooftops will really be affected assuming the Cubs put them up in such a way that they would limit the obstruction.

So, we now say that 4 of the 17 rooftops are affected by the new signage, or for simplicity sake, we'll just say a quarter of them.

The rooftop owners currently take in an estimated $25 million a year.  Over the span of 11 years, that is $275 million dollars.  That's a ton of money.

But if the new signage only significantly affects 4 rooftops...we'll say this total only affects about a quarter of revenue that puts us at about $70 million total.  I don't believe a judge could really say that the blockage will affect 100% of the revenues from those four rooftops.  It seems reasonable to think that the rooftops will suffer a 50% reduction in revenue.  That puts that total at $35 million.

$35 million...over 11 years.

That's a little over $3 million a year.

To put that in perspective, the Cubs currently get $4 million a year from the rooftops as part of their agreement.

If I'm the Cubs, the lawsuit probably wouldn't bother me too much.  The only thing that could happen is it could delay when they could deploy the new video board.

I'm not a lawyer, a judge and no very little about these sort of things, but I'm just trying to use some logic here to get an idea of what is at stake.  Please leave a comment if you have any different perspectives on this.


As an aside, I'm asking for any help from anyone who might have access to the text of the agreement between the rooftop owners and the Cubs.

The reason I ask about this is because a lot of things are being said about this agreement including the possibility that, as stated above, the agreement states that the Cubs may not alter the “uninterrupted sweep of the bleachers”...but with the added note of "without approval from the city."

If that is the case, the rooftop owners have little ground to stand on here.

This could very well be why Tom Tunney changed his tune and has basically turned his back on the rooftop owners.

Might there be a video board this year?

Numerous sources are now reporting that the Cubs and the city have a deal for renovating Wrigley and it will be announced sometime in the next few days.

Obviously the Ricketts family has wanted to have a deal done in time for them to finalize plans for the initial stage of the renovation so that construction can start immediately after the season ends this year.

However, I have to wonder if it is possible that some items on their wish list might happen before the end of the particular, the video board.

It isn't unprecedented that the Cubs make major renovations to Wrigley in the middle of the season.  Some of you might recall that the announcement that lights would be installed a Wrigley Field happened early in the 1988 season and those lights were install while the Cubs were on road trips during that year, with the change having been completed by late July.  Heck, the Toyota sign was installed mid-season too.  Even in the early days of the ballpark, the center field scoreboard was not completed until mid way through the 1937 season.

Since the installation of the video board should have little effect on any of the existing structure of the ballpark, and interfere very little with the existing seats in the ballpark, it seems entirely possible that the Cubs may look to have it installed as the season is in progress.  The logistics and the size of the project to install a video board can't be much more complicated than putting up the lights in the ballpark.

We won't ultimately know what the timeline is for any of the renovations until there is an official announcement made, but we do know that the first phase of the renovations is likely to target the player facilities which happens to be the most important aspect of this renovation.  I would also assume that they will want to target any major revenue generating aspects of the renovation early on as well...which would include signage in the outfield and the video board.