While it remains a suitor for the portfolio of regional sports networks Disney will soon be unloading as a condition of getting its Fox acquisition to close, Sinclair Broadcast Group is taking a more novel path into the sports cable business.
The No. 1 owner of local TV stations, which already owns the Tennis Channel and the Stadium digital network, has teamed with the Chicago Cubs to create the Marquee Sports Network. The Chicago-based network will be the region’s exclusive home for Cubs games starting with the 2020 season. It will also feature other Cubs content and local sports programming.
Cubs games through this coming season will continue to be seen on NBC Sports Chicago as well as via local broadcast stations WGN and WLS. As of 2020, all games will move to the new venture.
The Cubs, which ended a century-plus championship drought with a dramatic World Series win in 2016, are one of the most valuable franchises in professional sports.
“This partnership brings together one of the most iconic sports franchises in the country with one of
the largest television broadcasting companies,” Sinclair CEO Chris Ripley said. “It is hard to imagine any content that is more unique and valuable than the live sports entertainment the Cubs have been delivering to their fans for more than a century. Sinclair’s strength in production, distribution and local sales will support bringing more content to more viewers, all while leveraging the latest technology.”
Securing carriage will be the next hurdle for the new channel. Regional sports networks generally command high carriage fees from cable operators, and disruptions in the traditional TV bundle have been on display in the sports marketplace of late. DirecTV has not shown LA Dodgers games, for example, because of a long-running dispute with Charter, which owns Spectrum.
“Providing an enhanced experience for our fans is at the heart of everything we do. We are excited to better serve our fans with expanded and exclusive programming showcasing our remarkable players, beloved ballpark and storied past,” said Crane Kenney, President of Business Operations for the Cubs. “Our dedicated ‘Cubs-centric’ network will carry all available Cubs games and feature uncompromising, in-depth and behind-the-scenes coverage.”