Chicago Cubs End WGN Contract

When one thinks of the Chicago Cubs, what words come to mind? Harry Caray. Wrigley Field. WGN-TV.

The Cubs have broadcasted on WGN across the country since 1948. People fell in love with legendary announcer Jack Brickhouse's "Hey, Hey!!" and Harry Caray crooning "Take Me Out To The Ball Game" during the 7th inning stretch. Because of this, despite being dubbed the "Lovable Losers," there are Cubs fans all over the country. All of this is coming to an end because the team ended their contract with the station:

The team notified the Tribune Co.-owned station on Tuesday it had 30 days to agree to substantially higher fees for the 2015 season and beyond, or the broadcast rights would be opened up for negotiation with other media, according to a source close to the situation.

Currently, Cubs games are split between Comcast SportsNet Chicago and WGN-TV, earning the club about $60 million in annual broadcast rights fees combined, according to sources. The CSN deal runs through 2019 and includes the White Sox, Bulls and Blackhawks as partners. Comcast owns about 30 percent of the network.

The Cubs get about $20 million to air 70 games each year on WGN.  While the deal ran through 2022, the option resets the agreement for a five-year term after the 2014 season. The clause included a different fee schedule for the 2015 to 2019 seasons at substantially higher rates, and also called for a fair market value appraisal to be conducted. The appraisal came in slightly below the increased fee schedule, and by the terms of the contract, the Cubs are entitled to the higher of the two rates, according to sources.

The Ricketts family, who are lifelong Cubs fans, purchased the team from the Chicago Tribune in 2009. While most Cubs fans, including myself, cheered at this decision, Tom Ricketts, the owner, has been making a few choices Cubs fans have found to be dicey. The Tribune never really treasured the Cubs and knew they did not have to invest much into the team in order to profit from them. Ricketts immediately received praise when he fired Jim Hendry and hired Boston Red Sox wonderboy Theo Epstein as the new GM.

Then, the new ownership made some decisions that angered some longtime Cubs fans. First, they brought up renovations to famous Wrigley Field. The 99-year-old stadium does need help, but suggesting major changes to the stadium, including a huge screen and drowning the field with advertisements, caused a problem with the rooftop owners, who charge money for fans to watch the game on their roofs. Wrigley Field is pretty much the only stadium left that does not have anything to distract the fans, allowing them to enjoy the best game in the world. The new ownership also suggested playing more night games for revenue, but the Cubs cherish afternoon games and many fans did not like this idea. After all, the Cubs were the last to install lights.

To make it worse, Ricketts said in public if he did not receive his 6,000 square-foot video board, he would move the team out of Chicago AND sell the naming rights to Wrigley Field. It did not take long for Ricketts to realize it was a huge mistake to say this in public because he somewhat retracted it. He said that no matter what, he will not sell the naming rights since the name has meaning to people. 

This situation was brought up in July, and the Cubs hope to one day own their own TV station. They cannot do anything until 2019 when their contract with CSN expires. TV observers said the fan base is big enough to support their own station. However, even with their own station, consumers would have to purchase MLB Extra Innings, which is around $200, to watch the games on TV. The league also offers MLB Radio and MLB TV for computers. WGN, though, comes with cable packages and is also a staple in hotel and motel rooms. An article in the Tribune asked if the Cubs could afford to lose that many people. A friend of mine on Twitter just told me WGN is also carried on satellite systems in Canada.  

This lifelong Cubs fan is upset, and that is putting it lightly. One of my fondest memories is coming home after school and watching a Cubs game on WGN. I moved to Houston from Chicago in the summer of 1996 when I was 15, and the one thing that helped keep me company were Cubs games on WGN. Others on Twitter told me they are fans because of WGN.

Here is one other thing to consider. WGN helped recruit fans to the Cubs, but how many are diehard fans? They buy merchandise and will visit their local stadium when the Cubs played, but are they big enough fans to purchase the MLB packages? Those are questions that will be asked. 

What are your opinions on this development? 


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