Marquee’s future on Comcast uncertain

Contract with Chicago’s largest cable provider expires soon

At the same time the Chicago Bulls, Blackhawks, and White Sox are deserting NBC Sports for  Chicago Sports Network with Standard Media, now comes word Marquee – home to the Chicago Cubs and Chicago Sky, could lose their prime channel space on Comcast this fall as their contract expires.

It’s a situation that worries Cubs president Crane Kenney, especially now that Comcast no longer has a positive outlook on running RSNs or carrying them.

“I think distribution is going to be a challenge,” Kenney recently told 670 The Score hosts Dan Bernstein and Laurence Holmes. “And I’m sure you’re going to be asking me in September, ‘Hey, what’s going on now?’ Because it’s going to be bumpy.”

Comcast dropped the bankrupt Bally Sports/Diamond networks after failing to reach a deal, further jeopardizing their future as the cable operator wants to put RSNs in a higher-priced tier. That’s what exactly happened in Seattle, where Root Sports was relocated to a higher tier – a main factor in the Seattle Kraken leaving the network after just three years to sign a deal with Tegna, where all non-network games will appear on over-the-air independent KONG-TV. Despite the trend of cord-cutting and introducing lower-cost virtual alternatives such as YouTubeTV and Fubo, Comcast (marketed as Xfinity) is still Chicago’s largest cable provider by reach and number of subscribers. 

“I wish the clock was turned back to 2011″, Keeney later said. “Because the market is in turmoil. You’ve got half the RSNs in bankruptcy, being rejected in their rights agreements. You got wonderful markets like Atlanta — like if you’re a Comcast subscriber in Atlanta, you can’t watch the Braves [on Bally Sports] today.  If you’re a Comcast subscriber in Detroit, another great baseball market, you can’t watch the Tigers today.”

But it’s 2024, and changes in television viewing – and how we pay (or do not pay) for it have changed considerably, as American families are tired of paying close to $400 a month in cable and satellite bills and are cutting the cord. Like other RSNs, Marquee introduced a direct-to-consumer app for $19.99 a month last year to target cord-cutters, but the reviews have been less than glowing. 

You also have to factor in the not-so-great performance of the Cubs, who despite winning the World Series eight years ago, haven’t done much since, and no Chicago team in the four major sports has won a playoff series (excluding “bubbles”) this decade – not to mention no Chicago team even made the playoffs in 2023, which could make Chicago Sports Network and any renewal for Marquee a very tough sell to cable and virtual providers.  

Even in a great sports town like Chicago, die-hards won’t be enough to make a difference as casual viewers are lured away by other interests in an increasingly fragmented media landscape.

So what happens if Comcast drops Marquee? The Cubs’ season would be over (comes to think of it, it’s already over) so they would have plenty of time to hammer out a deal before the next baseball season. But they may not have the leverage and could settle with less favorable terms – not to mention search for an over-the-air TV partner so they can reach more viewers – something Marquee should have done in the first place when this network launched four years ago, just before the pandemic started.


1 thought on “Marquee’s future on Comcast uncertain

    • Personally, I do not feel sorry for either Marquee or the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs had a very good thing going with their former long-term broadcast home at WGN-TV Channel 9. I still believe that Sinclair drove the wedge between the Cubs and WGN because Sinclair lost the bid to purchase the Tribune TV stations, including Channel 9. So, what did Sinclar do? They go into partnership with the Cubs, pulling one of WGN’s stronger TV assets away to form Marquee. I don’t know if the Cubs would still be on Channel 9 today, but back in 2016 when WGN-TV went heavily into sports programming with the Cubs, White Sox, Bulls and Blackhawks, fans could watch many games on free broadcast television. As mentioned in the above article, none of these Chicago teams is performing all that well, so I don’t blame fans who do not subscribe to pay to see them on TV.

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