Report: WGN America to dump Chicago sports

Cubs Sox 2Also: WBBM-AM nears deal to land Cubs telecasts

Back in 1978, WGN-TV in Chicago joined WTBS in Atlanta and WOR-TV in New York (now WWOR) and uplinked their signal to a satellite to deliver their signal throughout

Chicago-Bullsthe country as a “superstation”.

In 2014, the “superstation” era is nearing the end.

In a report surfacing on Crain’s Chicago Business website Friday, WGN America, the current name of Tribune’s WGN-TV superstation, is dropping all sports telecasts from the channel – namely Chicago teams. Already, WGN America has no plans to carry the Chicago Bulls when they start playing again this fall.

WGN’s national telecasts of Cubs and White Sox baseball, and Bulls basketball, had been a source of headaches with Major League Baseball and the NBA, respectively over the years. In fact, the NBA sued WGN and the Bulls in the 1990’s over the number of games WGN could carry over its superstation. Meanwhile, MLB’s plan to shift the Chicago Cubs to the Western Division of the National League in 1993 was scrapped after WGN and the Cubs complained there would be too many late-night starts, resulting in lower revenue.

In addition to the three Chicago teams, WGN also carries Blackhawks games, but for viewers in the Chicago area only. The Blackhawks recently extended its deal with WGN for three more years, keeping the station in the sports business even if it loses the Cubs, whose deal with WGN is up after this season.

One website is reporting (or more than likely, predicting) WGN’s package of 67 Cubs baseball will head to Fox’s duopoly stations in 2015. But no decisions has been made or no deals have been struck yet, and WGN-TV is still in negotiations.

Meanwhile, Ed Sherman of The Sherman Report is saying the Cubs are now very close to a deal with CBS-owned WBBM-AM. Sherman is saying WBBM is putting the finishing touches and a deal is expected later this summer.

The Cubs had been on WGN-AM since 1924; and on WGN-TV since 1948 and available nationally on WGN’s superstation since 1978.

As for the superstation concept, its days had been numbered for quite some time – those days of Joe Franklin, Atlanta Braves baseball, and Bozo are long gone. WWOR pulled the plug on its superstation in 1996, while TBS split its local Atlanta and national feeds permanently on October 1, 2007 as the former became WPCH-TV (now operated by Meredith Corp.) and the latter became a national cable network (which it was operating like anyway.)

WGN America is hoping for the TBS scenario as the channel is looking for more carriage deals and the only way to increase those is to add more original programming such as Salem and the upcoming Manhattan, and drop Chicago-oriented shows, as Tribune CEO Peter Liguori noted at the MoffetNathanson Media & Communications Summit on May 15 – the same conference where Liguori criticized The CW for carrying too many young-skewing shows – increasing speculation that Tribune may walk away from the network when the group’s contract expires in 2016.

Liguori noted the three Chicago teams on WGN America contribute only $250,000 per year to Tribune’s bottom line – a far cry from when the Cubs’ popularity in the ’80’s thanks to the appeal of Haray Caray; Michael Jordan-led Bulls championship runs in the ’90’s; and the 2005 Chicago White Sox’s championship run.

Today, both Chicago baseball teams are rebuilding and the Bulls’ role as title contenders has stalled. According to Liguori, these developments have hurt the teams appeal outside of Chicago.

Both the White Sox and Bulls have a few years left on their contract with WGN-TV, having been on the station since 1990. A few years ago, owner Jerry Reinsdorf said one of the reasons why he brought his teams back to WGN was because of their superstation status.

One that appears to be ending soon.