ABC-owned station to run 25 games a season from 2015 through 2019
“Catch the action on WLS”…
That’s right, you heard me… ABC-owned WLS-TV (that’s TV, not AM) struck a five-year deal with the Chicago Cubs to air 25 games a season beginning this spring.
According to the station’s website, WLS would air games in daytime, primetime, and weekend dayparts. The issue of network pre-emptions are inevitable, and its not known if the pre-empted programming would be delayed or shifted onto WLS’ 7.2 channel, where is now occupied by the soon to be defunct Live Well Network.
Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed. It is not known if WLS would produce the games or if the Cubs would. The Chicago Tribune’s Robert Channick reported WLS and the Cubs were close to a deal Thursday night and was made official on Friday.
The deal doesn’t necessarily mean the end of Cubs telecasts on WGN-TV, its local broadcast outlet since 1948, as a package of 45 over-the-air games are still in play. Comcast SportsNet Chicago, the team’s cable partner, could also pick up the package. The Cubs opted out of its WGN deal last year as the station was losing money on the broadcasts.
WLS becomes the first ABC-owned station to carry baseball in recent memory* and the fourth Big 3 network O&O to carry a local team. In Philadelphia, NBC-owned WCAU is carrying a few Phillies gamnes produced by corporate cousin Comcast Sports Net Philadelphia, while NBC-owned KNTV in San Francisco has a similar arrangement with CSN Bay Area with the Giants.
Comcast SportsNet, WCAU, and KNTV are all owned by NBCUniversal, whose parent is Comcast Corp.
Baltimore Orioles’ rightsholder Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN) produces a package of games for CBS-owned WJZ-TV, which has held the rights since 1994 (when it was still an ABC affiliate.)
Previously, CBS-owned WCBS-TV carried a small package of New York Yankees games produced by the YES Network, while CBS-owned WCCO-TV carried Minnesota Twins games.
This is the latest change the Cubs have made as the team is shaking up its business model to be more competitive. Earlier, the Cubs struck a deal with WBBM-AM, ending a longtime relationship with WGN-AM which dates back decades. The team recently hired former Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Madden in the same capacity and signed ace pitcher Jon Lester to a six-year, $155 million deal making the team instant contenders.
This TV deal is synced up to expire the same time the Cubs’ cable deal with Comcast SportsNet expire in 2019 as the team is exploring the possibility of launching its own cable network, a venture that has paid off nicely for the Yankees.
* Cubs games aired on WENR-TV in 1949, one of the forerunners to WLS.