Credibility problems hammer Marquee, NBC Sports Chicago

Raises questions about teams having stakes in regional sports networks

Outside of the Sky’s WNBA Championship, the last nine months have been utter hell for Chicago sports fans, from a sexual abuse scandal to sports team owners chewing out reporters, not to mention a certain Green Bay QB “owning” local fans.

Now credibility problems has become the latest headache, with both Chicago regional sports networks embroiled in controversy

Thursday afternoon’s Los Angeles Dodgers-Chicago White Sox game on NBC Sports Chicago took an odd turn when White Sox manager Tony LaRussa decided for some reason to walk the Dodgers’ Trea Turner in the 6th inning with an 1-2 pitch count to get to the Dodgers’ Max Muncy, a move that left many scratching their heads – including the announcers on both teams. Muncy hit a home run, expanding the Dodgers’ lead and the won the game as LaRussa was blasted for his decision in both local and national circles. Believe it or not, Muncy took exception, basically calling it a bush-league move (as we know, baseball players are the biggest prima donnas in sports.) 

As the game clocked in at four hours and thirteen minutes, it had to be cut down to fit in three-hour window for a 7 p.m. re-air, which is commonplace when a game runs long. But the sequence when the nuttiness happened in the 6th disappeared due to “time constraints”.  The replay was scheduled opposite the January 6 hearings, which drew 20 million viewers across a wide variety of platforms. With attention on the hearings, NBC Sports Chicago figured no one would notice.

Someone noticed, all right.

The missing segment generated outrage from White Sox fans, already upset over LaRussa’s terrible move, thinking the removal was protecting him and framed it as a conspiracy given the White Sox, Bulls, and Blackhawks own a stake in NBC Sports Chicago, with NBCUniversal owning the rest. The editing mishap turned out to be an accident, as an outside contractor in New Jersey not affiliated with the team or the RSN handled the conversion to a three-hour broadcast, but wasn’t told what segments to trim. Still, this looked amateurish at best, and at first glance is inexcusable. 

Last month, the Cubs’ Marquee Network was criticized for selectively editing Sunday morning roundtable show The Reporters as producers stopped tape after the panel ripped into Cubs management and removed the segment. Marquee is a joint venture between the Cubs and Sinclair Broadcasting. 

Both incidents once again raises questions about sports teams owning stakes in regional sports networks and the editorial control they employ regarding the games and related programming. Teams who own stakes in RSNs include the New York Yankees (YES), the Washington Nationals and Baltimore Orioles (MASN) and others. To be fair, issues regarding editorial control have been minimal. For example, NBC Sports Chicago didn’t ignore the Blackhawks’ sexual abuse scandal involving Kyle Beach, and now-retired play-by-play announcer Pat Foley addressed the issue before a game back in October, when the scandal hit its peak. 

But the two well-publicized slip-ups has angered Chicago sports fans, who are already frustrated with their teams’ on-the-field performances this year, if the “Fire Tony” chants at Saturday’s White Sox game against the Texas Rangers were any indication. The discord is more notable with the South Siders, who were expected to contend for a World Series title with the return of 77-year old LaRussa at the helm, whose hire was met with skepticism from fans. But again, this is “The Chicago Way” we’re dealing with. Both Chicago teams are bound to repeat 2013, when ratings dropped and they combined for 195 losses. 

This comes as viewers are the cutting the cord as cable bills continue to skyrocket. RSNs are the second-most expensive per-subscriber cost only behind ESPN as viewers usually see a “regional sports network fee” of around $18 a month, whether they watch or not – and for the most part, they’re not watching. And for both RSNs to make lapses in judgement like this knowing they get tons of money from cable subscribers is even more galling. 

Even worse, baseball is “older-skewing”, whose median age is well above the other major sports. With so many choices for the home viewer – especially younger ones who have no interest in baseball to begin with (the re-hiring of LaRussa the dinosaur is proof), these latest gaffes on-and-off the field signal there is really no need to tune in. 

Add to this the inflation crisis where prices have gone up for food, gas, and everyday basic necessities has Chicagoans thinking twice about shelling out tons of money to see two bad baseball teams whose owners don’t respect their fanbases – not to mention the NFL Lakefront Team who continue to be an embarrassment (so much so that podcaster Ross Tucker recently trolled Bears fans) and a bad Blackhawks team still reeling from a scandal. It’s smart for fans to save their money to spend on something else worthwhile instead of what passes off as Chicago sports these days. 

[Editor’s note: A draft of this story with incorrect information in the third paragraph was posted here on June 14. It has since been corrected. – T.H.]


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