The Cubs’ new network on Dish? Don’t bet on it

Impasses with Fox, others and costs makes it tough for carriage 

If you are a Cubs fan and you are looking forward to watching Kris Bryant and Co. on their new Marquee Sports Network on Dish, let me give you a heads up: it’s not likely to happen.

With nearly 150 games set to air exclusively on the Cubs’ new channel starting in 2020, Dish Network chairman Charlie Ergen told investors in an earnings conference call a few days ago he is unlikely to return Fox’s regional sports networks to the satellite provider and Sling streaming service after an impasse was reached Friday after the channels were removed. Ergen is considering dropping all regional sports networks once their contracts come up, citing the high costs of carrying them.

“It doesn’t look good that the regional sports will ever be on Dish again,” Ergen was quoted as saying in Ad Age.The frustrating thing is, they are not very good economic deals for us.”

The move comes as the 21 regional Fox Sports networks and the Yankees’ YES are being sold by The Walt Disney Co. to Sinclair Broadcast Group (with Amazon taking a stake in YES) as a result of the Justice Department ordering Disney to divest the properties once it bought much of 21st Century Fox for $71.3 billion, RSNs included. But the channels were sold at below-market value as most media companies were not interested in acquiring them. The deal has yet to close because the Justice Department has yet to sign off on it.

Sinclair is a partner with the Cubs and the Ricketts family in the Marquee Sports Network.

Now keep in mind this doesn’t necessarily mean Marquee and Dish won’t come to a carriage deal. In fact, Dish is actually open to making a deal with Sinclair for the Fox RSNs. But Sinclair isn’t negotiating with Dish yet because the deal is still pending – a third party appointed by Disney is doing so instead (and obviously not doing a good job.) But the chances of Marquee landing on Dish are severely diminished. After all, Dish doesn’t carry the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Spectrum SportsNet LA and neither does anyone else, outside of Spectrum.

So far, Marquee has one carriage deal: Charter Communications – the same outfit who owns SportsNetLA. Charter’s presence in the Chicago area is only limited to Kenosha, Wis. (you can debate among yourselves whether the city belongs in the Chicago or Milwaukee market.)

Ergen is gambling that the number of lost customers from dropping the RSNs wouldn’t affect Dish despite more and more people cutting the cord. Ironically, Dish has lost fewer subs than rival DirecTV, who had lost over a million homes in the past year. Dish is known in the industry as a tough negotiator; they are currently in another standoff with HBO and had a nine-month impasse with Univision, who kept their signals off the air.

There are a number of impasses taking place between broadcasters and satellite TV providers; Dish with Meredith and DirecTV with Nexstar and CBS, the latter owner of WBBM-TV whose ratings have dropped 28 percent in total-day ratings since the blackout began.

Whether Marquee gets wide carriage in Chicago and beyond depends on how much they would ask for the channel; negotiations will step up once the baseball season concludes. But if operators balk at paying high prices in this environment, getting wide clearance for the Cubs’ new network is going to be even more challenging than first anticipated. If Marquee and the Ricketts Family thought they were going to get carriage deals done because of the power of Cub Nation, they might want to think again.

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