Cubs Exploring Options for Radio and TV Broadcasts, Still Searching for Radio Analyst

While the Cubs continue working on details to restore Wrigley Field with the city, neighborhood and the rooftop club owners, the team is also dealing with media rights between 720 WGN and WGN TV.

WGN Radio exercised an option in their contract with the Cubs last month to re-negotiate the deal with the team due to “sharply declining ratings because of the Cubs’ struggles on the field.” Under the current contract, WGN is paying as much as $10 million per season, and possibly more, to broadcast Cubs’ games. The contract between the Cubs and 720 WGN is thought to be one of the most expensive in baseball.

The Cubs exercised an opt out in their contract with WGN TV earlier this month that would end the Cubs’ long relationship with the network following the 2014 season if a new contract is not agreed to. The Cubs would like to extend the contract to run through the 2019 season, the same length of their current contract with Comcast SportsNet, but at an increased rate. The Cubs reportedly receive around $60 million per season from WGN and Comcast SportsNet to televise the games, with $20 million coming from WGN. The Cubs had to exercise the option when they did or the contract would have renewed and locked in the current rate through the 2022 season. The Cubs and WGN TV had 30 days at the time (Nov. 6) to work out a new contract.

The Cubs and WGN have been in arbitration to try to determine the market value for the TV rights.

According to a report from Patrick Mooney, the Cubs “have met with CBS Radio Chicago” about broadcasting the games on one of their stations. The discussions could be leverage with WGN Radio, as Mooney pointed out. The White Sox “are locked into WCSR-AM 670 through the 2015 season.” Mooney reported the Cubs could end up on “another CBS affiliate” for one season before moving to The Score.

WMVP-1000 AM (ESPN Chicago) is expected to make a run at the Cubs. And Cumulus Media could be a factor according to Mooney’s report.

The uncertainty surrounding the Cubs’ radio partner will have an impact on who is hired to replace Keith Moreland, the same way the pending TV deals had an impact on Bob Brenly leaving the Cubs’ booth to take the same job with Arizona last off-season. The Cubs, WGN and Comcast SportsNet could only offer a two-year guaranteed contract at the time.

As reported, Kerry Wood and Rick Sutcliffe are not candidates to replace Moreland in the booth next to Pat Hughes. Patrick Mooney reported that Cubs management likes Doug Glanville, but he may have two more years on his contract with ESPN and might not be an option.

Ron Coomer is thought to be a strong candidate, as well as Dave Otto.

Todd Hollandsworth could be the leading candidate for the job that WGN is looking to fill by Dec. 9. Hollandsworth and Coomer “are viewed as strong candidates” according to Mooney’s report, as the job is expected to go to a former player.

Andy Masur could be a candidate as well, along with Smokies’ play-by-play man, Mick Gillispie. Masur has a history with the team from his days in the radio booth with Pat Hughes and Ron Santo. Gillispie has been working with Len Kasper calling Spring Training games on, plus Gillispie knows the Cubs’ farm system and does an excellent job on Smokies Radio.

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  • 07GreyDigger

    I remember a similar article a few weeks ago and people saying that no one would want the Cubs on their station.

    Are you crazy? I think any station mentioned here would do what they could to get them on there. I think the favorite for me is ESPN Radio 1000. They are always looking to one up the Score and nabbing the Cubs would be a huge coup for them.

    • cubtex

      Please read an article before calling people out! This is the same Mooney report that mentioned there aren’t alot of options and still aren’t. This is from the article you didn’t read.

      The Cubs will have to find their way through a complicated maze if
      they are going to capitalize on the media assets they believe will be
      franchise game-changers.

      • Neil

        I don’t think any one was being called out. There were no names mentioned.

        Thank you.

    • cubtex

      I found a blip of the article. It was from Sherman from the Tribune. Read this and re-read the Mooney article that Neil posted. These are all “sources” who could be trying to pin a station against WGN. Remember how much money we are talking. Cumulus Radio which is WLS in Chicago is a weak sister in the Chicago market.

      WSCR-AM 670 is locked in with the White Sox.

      WMVP-AM 1000 would seem to be an option. However, its deal with the Bulls means potential game conflicts with the Cubs in April and May, and perhaps June if the Bulls go deep in the playoffs. That situation would be difficult to resolve as neither side is likely to agree to be shuttled to a shadow station. Also, it appears unlikely that the ESPN-owned station is in the position or mood to drop big bucks on the Cubs.

      WBBM-AM 780 and WLS-AM 890 are not considered to be options, given the volume of Cubs games and the price tag. Going to an FM station isn’t a viable alternative for the Cubs.

      • Ripsnorter1

        Well, I think you can safely write off the Bulls going deep into June playoffs this year…..

        • cubtex

          What a shame! You got to feel bad for D Rose!

      • 07GreyDigger

        I read the articles and have worked for ESPN Radio in the past. They would like nothing more than to topple the Score. That’s why I consider them an option. The only snag (besides the Bulls) is when the parent company wants to run Sunday night baseball and other national games. That might be more of a threat than overlapping games.

        Don’t forget the Blackhawks got displaced for the Cubs and (vice versa) when it comes to overlaps and I imagine those stations that took them on were happy to have them.

        • cubtex

          working for ESPN and having them make a HUGE commitment like this are 2 different things. There are many hurdles to jump over for this to work for ESPN. Can it be done? Yes, but they will have to be creative. Cumulus is WLS. I doubt that is a fit. The only 2 stations that seem to be a fit are WGN and ESPN. I don’t see where you think there are all these other options.

          • 07GreyDigger

            I worked in radio for a few years, been through format changes and worked for different companies so I do know what I’m talking about here. But really, what I’m saying is all subjective.

            It’s a large market, but very few companies. Its not silly to think that someone could cancel a beloved format to make way for the Cubs. I know you don’t live in the area anymore, but an alternative station here Q101 was reformatted to be an all news station that failed miserably. Q101 has returned as Q87, but the news station reformatted to an adult contemporary station.

            With many similar formats in a large market and people jockeying for ratings and advertising, it seems very feasible to me that companies like Clear Channel, Cumulus, ABC, CBS and Merlin controlling the market to be interested.

            When the Blackhawks were in the playoffs some of their games were played on The Loop. Being a classic rock station, I could easily see them being interested in the Cubs, especially if it raised their ratings that have been stagnant for over 10 years.

  • BosephHeyden

    I think the Cubs have lost quite a bit of bargaining power. Baseball in general isn’t getting any more popular. It doesn’t help any that they’re a losing team that doesn’t have a clear idea of when they want to start trying to win.

    The thing that has made the Cubs attractive in the past, despite the 100+ years of a losing tradition, was that they always seemed like they were a few free agent signings away or a management change away from a playoff run the next season. This current approach? It may ultimately be what the Cubs need to be a perennial contender, that remains to be seen. But what this approach isn’t going to convey is a sense that they’re an off-season worth of moves away from making the playoffs the next year. When you know for certain that a team isn’t going to make a legitimate push for playoff contention before the season starts, it makes for very skippable television. And when people aren’t inclined to watch every game, ratings are guaranteed to be low, which means ad revenue will be lower, which means, major market or not, the product isn’t worth much money.

    Killing the “Wait til Next Year” vibe in favor of a “It’ll be a While, but if We Get This Right, We’ll be in it Every Year” vibe will get you purist fans watching to see progress, as well as a few diehards. And, ultimately, if it does work, it’s the best approach for the team and the on-field product. But negotiating TV and radio deals? Their best bet right now is to settle on something for as much, if not maybe just a little less, money from WGN and Comcast Sportsnet. They can shop elsewhere, but expecting a long term, higher paying contract that will reach the same amount of fans as their current deal is very, very unlikely. Getting a shorter term deal with the people they’re already in business with is a better long term deal because, if the plan does work out, then when negotiations come around for the next contract, you have a better product to pitch, which will guarantee more viewers, and, in the end, will be a product companies will pay more to obtain.

    • cubtex

      Well said. If advertising revenue is down during Cubs games on WGN….it won’t magically increase by switching radio stations. ESPN knows this. They might work out a deal to obtain the rights to broadcast Cubs games but it won’t be 3 or 4 stations trying to outbid one another.

    • 07GreyDigger

      Another thing to consider in addition to the team’s struggles is radio’s place in our world of technology. With mobile apps and smartphones, some people stray away from listening to the game on the radio when they can get video on the go. I think this plays a huge factor in this as well. A lot of the audience that was listening to games is dying off and are not the people doing the Nielsen ratings anymore. Not to mention WGN has its own programming issues for a while and has lost a lot of listenership that way as well.

      • cubtex


      • BosephHeyden

        I’m pretty sure when the Cubs aren’t on WGN, it’s some guy reading the newspaper to my grandparents and their friends.

  • jtrain23

    I think there are several good names on this list, but I believe the best candidate might be the least known. If you have heard Mick Gillispie broadcast games in spring training or for the Smokies, you know how talented he is. I would love to listen to the combo of Mick and Pat, or Pat and Mick. It has a nice ring to it either way.