After last nights thrilling 2-1 defeat of the New York Mets in walk off fashion, the Chicago Cubs announced that they are parting ways with their 90 year partner WGN Radio. Starting in the 2015 you can hear Pat Hughes and Ron Coomer call all 162 Cubs games, but now on 780 WBBM Radio, just slightly up the dial from the traditional 720 AM.
While I am sure there will be several fans wanting to blame Tom Ricketts for this change, this is one time where you will have a hard time directing your anger on him. On October 16 of last year, reports came out that WGN Radio decided to opt out of their current contract with the Cubs in order to renegotiate their current contract. This was done because WGN Radio claimed that due to the struggling Cubs declining records the past few years, WGN Radio was losing money. They had hoped to reach an agreement with the Cubs that would lower their estimated $10 Million a year fee to broadcast games. Of course, some fans will still look to blame Ricketts because the Major League team has gotten worse every year since he bought the Cubs.
When WGN Radio chose to opt out of the deal, the Cubs felt free to shop their games elsewhere to see who could offer them the best deal. While there were numerous options, WBBM Radio obviously offered them the right deal which is being reported to be for seven years and an estimated $12 Million a year. With WGN Radio looking to decrease their yearly fee, the Cubs sound like they actually got an increase elsewhere.
While this may seem cold hearted on the Cubs part, in the end this is a business. Baseball may be a kids game, but baseball is still a business. WGN Radio was doing business when they decided to opt out of the current contract, the Cubs were doing business when they decided to look elsewhere before accepting WGN’s lower broadcasting fees, CBS Sports were doing business when they offered significantly more money than WGN to purchase their rights, and WGN was again doing business when they refused to match CBS Sports offer. WGN Radio could have done much more to keep the Cubs on their network and continued their 90 year relationship, but they felt keeping them did not make much financial sense; not at their old price, and certainly not at the price they are reportedly getting from CBS Sports.
Signing the Cubs is huge for the CBS Sports Nework as they now own the radio broadcasting rights for three of the five major sports franchises. The Chicago White Sox appear on WSCR 670 AM, while both the Chicago Bears and Cubs will be broadcast on WBBM 780 AM. When there is a conflicting schedule between the Bears and Cubs, one of the two games will be simulcast on 105.9 FM.
Now that the Cubs have a new radio home starting in 2015, we can wait and see where the Cubs television rights wind up. The current deal ends with WGN TV at the end of this season as well, after the Cubs decided to opt out of the TV deal looking for a better pay day. Currently, the Cubs are receiving a mere $20 Million a year from WGN to air 70 games, roughly $285,715 a game. The team also receive roughly $40 Million a year from CSN. The combined value of $60 Million a year is vastly below what is the going rate for baseball broadcasting rights.
The Cubs current partnership with Comncast Sports Net runs through the 2019 season, and the Cubs are not allowed to sign a deal with another cable station until that deal expires. This opens up the door for a short term extension with WGN TV that would end when the CSN deal ends. That may also be a long shot, as WGN America has decided to stop showing Chicago Sports all together. When both deals are up, the Cubs are expected to look for and find one of the massive TV deals that are being handed out around baseball.
While I am sure making the change in 2015 from WGN 720 to WBBBM 780 will take a little getting used to, the change in station was not the major concern among Cubs fans. The biggest concern was the future of Hughes and if he would still be the radio voice of the team. The easy answer to that is yes. Both Hughes and Coomer are under contract with the Cubs and will continue to call their games as they move up the dial.
Cub fans are being asked to deal with a lot of change in a rather short amount of time. The changing of radio networks, possible tv networks and the changing of Wrigley Field. Remember. change does not have to be a bad thing. Especially when all things traditional about the Cubs is filled with heartbreak and misery.