The Cubs have announced their long-awaited formation of a regional sports network. The organization will partner with Sinclair Broadcast Group to launch the “Marquee Sports Network” beginning with the 2020 season.
There’s risk and opportunity aplenty in taking this route, as the Cubs will now be seeking to work out carriage deals for a channel reliant all but entirely on their ballclub and brand. Obviously, it’s quite a popular franchise, but one that — like any other — is hardly immune to on-field downturns or off-field controversy and won’t have live games to market for much of the year.
The Ricketts-owned Cubs have obviously thought through all of the competing considerations and decided to take the plunge. This is hardly their first notable business initiative. Rather, the move comes on the heels of a multi-year, multi-fronted plan to overhaul the organization’s business and baseball operations. There have certainly been some notable successes along the way, though there’s also suddenly quite a bit more uncertainty (at least on the baseball side) than anyone anticipated when a young Cubbies squad broke the curse in 2016.
In the announcement, Cubs president of business operations Crane Kenney promised a “Cubs-centric” network that will feature the iconic organization but also some unspecified “other local sports programming.” (The remaining three Chicago professional sports teams are already committed to remain with NBC Sports Chicago.) Kenney adds that the the network will “feature uncompromising, in-depth and behind-the-scenes coverage.”
Sinclair, which is best known for its conservative-oriented news coverage, is one of the country’s most powerful media companies. The company is presently bidding against MLB and others for the regional sports networks that are being auctioned due to Disney’s pending acquisition of certain Fox media assets. Sinclair already has media ties to White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf through the Stadium network.
If the partners are successful in structuring and marketing this channel, they could reap major profits. It’s not hard to imagine how that might continue to support investments in the club’s baseball operations. Indeed, the organization has long emphasized the connectivity between its business initiatives and roster-building efforts, with salary ramping up quite significantly over the past several years. On the heels of a disappointing conclusion to the 2018 season, though, the Cubs are wrapping up a surprisingly inactive 2018-19 offseason with clear budgetary limitations in place.