Three days after Bruce Levine reported Crane Kenney met with the President of Tribune Broadcasting, Larry Wert at Wrigley Field, the Chicago Tribune confirmed the team is exploring a return to WGN-TV for the 2015 season.
The Cubs exercised an opt out in its contract with WGN-TV, the team’s long-time television partner, last November and it was believed the team’s final game of the 2014 season would be its last on Channel 9.
Without control of all the games, it has been difficult for the Cubs to find a media partner to televise the games previously aired on WGN-TV and WCIU. The team’s contract with Comcast SportsNet runs through the 2019 season, at that point the Cubs would own all of its television rights.
The Cubs have explored multicast options but time is running out on a partner being in place for next season.
Robert Channick reported Thursday night, “the Cubs and Tribune Media appear ready to play ball after a trial separation failed to produce viable short-term alternatives.” An official announcement, however, “may still take some time.”
The Cubs make about $500,000 on games televised on Comcast SportsNet and under the previous contract, WGN-TV paid around $250,000 per game. The report from the Tribune pointed to WGN-TV losing “about $200,000 per game” last season and “Tribune Media balked at paying its previous rate, much less an increase” in recent negotiations. The Cubs were believed to be asking for WGN to pay a similar rate to Comcast SportsNet.
The team’s improved outlook and hiring Joe Maddon along with the front office talking about winning again “likely helped bring Tribune Media back to the table.”
“A number of plans are being discussed, including the possibility of moving some portion of the TV schedule over to CSN [Comcast SportsNet], in which the Cubs have an equity stake.” If Comcast SportsNet picks up extra games, the other network partners, which include Jerry Reinsdorf, would have to give their approval. The Tribune indicated those “discussions are taking place.”
The Cubs and Tribune Media could be discussing “a revenue-sharing deal” which would limit the risk for Tribune Media while giving the team an opportunity to earn money per game. “Any deal would extend only so far as 2019” and “such a deal would likely include an out clause should the Cubs be able to strike a long-term deal” with another outlet according to the Tribune.
The Cubs are also faced with deadlines to have advertising in place for the 2015 season. Channick pointed out, “baseball advertising sales begin in earnest in November” and “sponsors looking to buy the full schedule can only secure CSN games, which may delay or dilute their ultimate advertising budgets.”
The Tribune indicated the Cubs “remain in negotiations with TPG Capital, a Texas-based private equity firm with deep roots in the sports and entertainment industries, to be a partner in monetizing broadcast rights.”
Robert Channick did not include an update in his report about the games being carried on WGN America if the Cubs and Tribune Media agree to a new contract. In the spring, the process began to transition WGN America to a basic cable channel which would drop all Chicago sports telecasts from its programming.