Report: Bulls, White Sox, Blackhawks to bolt NBC Sports Chicago for Stadium

Jerry Reinsodrf’s digital network could be the new home for all three teams

As first reported by the Chicago Sun-Times Monday night, the Chicago Bulls, Blackhawks, and White Sox are looking to exit their expiring deal with NBC Sports Chicago and launch a new regional sports network named Stadium, an existing streaming platform whose IP is owned by Bulls and White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf.

The deals end in October, at the conclusion of baseball season and the start of the NBA and NHL campaigns, but could launch next spring as the Bulls and Blackhawks would get one more full season at NBC Sports.

The move was rumored for some time when Reinsdorf and his Silver Chalice Sports bought the remaining stake of the former over-the-air digital subchannel from Sinclair last year, giving him full control. NBC Sports Chicago has been the home for all three teams since October 1, 2004 when the RSN was known as Comcast SportsNet, all moving over from Fox Sports Chicago. The Cubs were also part of NBC Sports Chicago until 2020 when they started their own RSN under Marquee Sports Network.

Stadium’s facilities are based in the United Center, where the Bulls and Blackhawks play.

Comcast bought NBC parent NBCUniversal in 2009 in a deal that closed in 2011 and rebranded all of its RSNs under the NBC Sports name. Later, NBCUniversal merged operations of its RSNs with its owned-and-operated broadcast stations in Boston, San Francisco, Philadelphia, and here in Chicago, where the channel and Telemundo’s WSNS are under the management of WMAQ-TV general manager Kevin Cross.

“The teams continue to have discussions and conversations about future broadcast plans and will have an announcement about those plans when appropriate,” White Sox senior vice president of communications Scott Reifert told the Sun-Times.

The timing comes as the RSN business is under the gun from cord-cutting amid rising cable/satellite bills and the overall decline of linear TV, as evidenced by the bankruptcy of Bally Sports Net. Moreover, this comes as the White Sox’s ratings were ranked near the bottom of MLB last year as the team is currently off to its worst start in franchise history, and could leave town at the end of the decade if Reinsdorf doesn’t get public money to build a proposed new stadium in the South Loop which is already proving to be a tough sell for the very unpopular owner.

And given the unpopularity of the White Sox and the Bulls – despite backing into a “play-in tournament”- a useless venture like the inane “NBA Cup” tournament – solely created by the league to mime more revenue for themselves, Stadium would be hard-pressed to get quality retransmission fees as there’s a backlash among Chicago-area viewers already dealing with high taxes, inflation, and overall increased costs. Cable, satellite, and vMVPD deals (with YouTube TV and Fubo) may also be tough to come by in this current environment.

This would leave rookie Connor Bedard as the face of the channel, but given the Blackhawks are in a rebuild of their own, he might not have the same marketing impact Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews had.

Also under consideration is a direct-to-consumer app and over-the-air broadcast rights – though that could be easier said than done as the future of The CW affiliation in Chicago is up in the air between independent WGN-TV and current affiliate WCIU, owned by Weigel Broadcasting as WGN – who like The CW is owned by Nexstar – already airs the network’s sports programming, sans Inside The NFL

In addition to a possible Stadium launch, Fox, Disney, and Warner Bros. Discovery plan to launch a new sports streaming service this fall. Whether there’s an appetite for either – especially one whose teams haven’t drawn much viewership in recent years – remains to be seen.


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