It’s official: Chicago Sports Network to launch Oct. 1

Replaces NBC Sports Chicago, which will close

The proposed new White Sox-Bulls-Blackhawks regional sports network you’ve been reading about for months now has a name: The Chicago Sports Network. And it is becoming a reality this fall. 

The new Chicago Sports Network (CHSN) will be the new home of Chicago’s three sports teams beginning in October. The network will feature over three hundred games per year with the standard pregame and postgame shows. The Bulls and Blackhawks start play on CHSN in October; the White Sox will debut on the channel in March 2025. Programming, talent, and distribution will be announced within the next few months. 

CHSN noted it will have carriage on cable, satellite, streaming, and over-the-air stations in several states including Illinois and Indiana but didn’t elaborate. The new channel is in partnership with Standard Media (which is a subsidiary of New York City-based hedge fund Standard General, who tried to buy Tegna two years ago), a small broadcast group with only four stations in four states – the largest being in Providence, R.I. where it owns ABC affiliate WLNE, who was once known for this (under previous ownership.) 

Late Monday afternoon, a Bulls source told the Chicago Tribune that all games would be available via over-the-air television, but didn’t identify what station would carry them or if they are currently in negotiations with any local broadcaster. 

The new venture must get approval from their respective leagues, but that shouldn’t be a problem. The production facilities for CHSN would be based at the United Center and Guaranteed Rate Field. 

NBC Sports Chicago will be a memory by October.

Jason Coyle was named new president of the network. “As we set out to design the network, we began and ended every discussion with the simple question: What is best for our fans?” he said. “What is the best approach to distribution? How can we push the limits of both in-game and studio production? We plan to serve our fans on as many platforms and in as many markets as our rights allow.”

Coyle was CEO of Stadium, the former over-the-air digital network and current FAST channel owned by Jerry Reinsodrf’s Silver Chaice Sports, who bought out Sinclair’s share in the venture. The assumption was Stadium would be reinvented as an RSN for the three teams, but Reinsdorf decided to go in a different direction and hooked up with the obscure Standard Media. Stadium is expected to provide content for CHSN. 

As expected, the announcement officially closes the door on NBC Sports Chicago. Launched twenty years ago after the Cubs, White Sox, Bulls, and Blackhawks all left Fox Sports Net Chicago, Comcast Sports Net Chicago became NBC Sports Chicago when Comcast and NBC merged. The partnership started to unravel when the Cubs and owner Tom Ricketts had a desire to launch their own RSN and did so in 2020 with Marquee, leaving the other three teams with NBC Sports Chicago. 

In recent years, Comcast consolidated operations of the NBC RSNs and the stations it owned in large markets, including Chicago where it owned WMAQ-TV and WSNS-TV. It was common for NBC Sports Chicago personalities to pop up on WMAQ’s Sports Sunday broadcasts.

“We thank the White Sox, Bulls and Blackhawks for the long and collaborative partnership on NBC Sports Chicago,” in a statement to the Sun-Times. “We look forward to producing quality coverage of the teams through the remainder of our partnership, along with continuing our extensive coverage of every local pro team in town on NBC 5 Chicago and Telemundo Chicago.”

Connor Bedard will be the biggest attraction to the new Chicago Sports Network.

The news leaves a lot of unanswered questions. For one, CHSN would have to start from scratch to secure carriage on cable, satellite, and virtual programming distributors – getting NBC Sports Chicago’s old slots isn’t guaranteed – especially as more and more viewers are cutting the cord and cable companies like Comcast and Charter are moving RSNs to higher-priced tiers as their cost-per-subscriber point is significantly higher than non-sports cable networks. The tier move was one of the reasons why the NHL’s Seattle Kraken ended their relationship with Root Sports and moved all of their non-network games to broadcast TV. Comcast also recently dropped Bally Sports, whose RSNs are still in bankruptcy. 

Plus, making all games available on broadcast could also hurt their leverage with pay TV distributors – regular or virtual – who usually frown on such arrangements. 

Moreover, all three teams are in prolonged slumps: The White Sox are currently the worst team in baseball and have announcer issues (as I illustrated here); the Bulls have made the playoffs only twice in the last decade (not counting the Play-In tournaments); and despite phenom Connor Bedard being the face of the franchise, the Blackhawks have won only one playoff series this decade (in the 2020 bubble) and while ratings have perked up, they are nowhere near where they were during the Stanley Cup years, declining even before the team started going into the toilet. 

Also, the price point for a direct-to-consumer version of CHSN wasn’t revealed – that is if there is going to be one since they didn’t make it clear. 

The closure of NBC Sports Chicago leaves the remaining NBC Sports RSNs with a questionable future, leaving Boston, Philadelphia, and San Francisco as the only ones left. The latter actually has two (the Bay Area feed with the Warriors and Giants; and the “California” feed with the A’s and Sharks.) But with the A’s leaving Oakland for Las Vegas, the “California” RSN is also facing a questionable future.

This is the latest upheaval in the Chicago TV landscape. Last month, Nexstar announced it was moving The CW affiliation back to WGN-TV after a ten-year hiatus beginning September 1, ending a five-relationship with WCIU, which is returning to full-independent status. 


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