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.