Cubs Future on 720 WGN Remains in Question

WGN-AM 720 exercised an option with the Cubs on Oct. 17 to re-open their contract with the team due to “sharply declining ratings because of the Cubs struggles on the field.” The uncertainty of the future of the long-time partnership between WGN and the Cubs impacted the search for Pat Hughes’ partner after Keith Moreland decided to move on.

WGN has been broadcasting Cubs games since 1925 and would like to continue carrying the games. The contract between the team and WGN expires at the end of the 2014 season if the two-sides are unable to come to a new agreement.

The Cubs are reportedly shopping their broadcast rights to other stations. But the upcoming season could be the last one for the Cubs on 720 WGN as Robert Feder predicted on Jan. 1.

According to multiple reports, the Cubs will provide an update on where the team stands with their radio and television contracts during the Cubs Convention.

The future of AM radio could have an impact on where Cubs’ games will be able to be heard after next season. Crain’s Chicago Business posted a report on the where WGN-AM stands with the more advanced media that is now available. AM radio could be “dead and gone” as the report points out, but the stranglehold of Tribune Co. is limiting how WGN can move into the future.

According to the report, WGN-AM is “the only radio station owned by Chicago-based Tribune Co.” and despite all of the alternatives that exist, WGN-AM “is still among the city’s top outlets.” WGN is “facing increasingly bleak prospects in a market crowded with digital rivals such as Spotify and broadcast competitors like Cumulus Media Inc.”

Jimmy de Castro, WGN Radio president, told Crain’s Chicago Business “he would love to buy an FM station with its superior signal quality.” WGN showed interest in two of the stations Cumulus Media Inc. recently purchased.

According to Crain’s, federal laws are limiting de Castro’s options “as long as Tribune continues to own the Chicago Tribune and WGN-TV.” The report explained de Castro is “in need of an FM outlet that is not available to him.” However, Tribune Co. is “aiming to spin off or sell Tribune’s newspaper division, where circulation and advertising income are sinking” and de Castro might be able to use the sell as a “legal leeway to add Chicago radio outlets.”

WGN-AM slipped to a fifth-place tie in the Chicago market from fourth a year ago. WGN-AM carries not only Cubs’ games but the Blackhawks and Northwestern football and basketball. WGN’s revenue last year was $31.6 million according to the report. And the station faces a “bigger challenge of keeping WGN-AM relevant after decades of listeners and advertisers migrated to the better reception offered by FM stations.”

Jimmy de Castro created the website WGN.FM, or The G, to try to “create the Pandora of talk radio by assembling talent from across the country and posting podcasts.”

According to the report in October, WGN is currently paying as much as $10 million per year to the Cubs, and maybe more, which would make the deal one of the most expensive in baseball.

The Cubs future with WGN, both radio and television, should receive some clarity this week.

Follow ChicagoCubsOnline on Twitter: @TheCCO and @TheCCO_Minors

[amazonjs asin=”1626190348″ locale=”US” tmpl=”Small” title=”Wrigley Field: 100 Stories for 100 Years (Sports History)”]

Quote of the Day

"From what we get, we can make a living; what we give, however, makes a life." – Arthur Ashe