Do you want to know what Cubs Insider’s most-viewed post of all time is? It’s the one I wrote about the MLB blackout rules and how they impact those Cubs fans outside of the greater Chicago market who wanted to watch their team. Tons of search traffic would be driven to that article every time a game appeared on something other than CSN Chicago or ESPN, as many of the locally-broadcast games were syndicated out to various channels in Cubs-heavy markets.
While it was really cool of the Cubs and their local broadcast partners to offer those games up, and even cooler than stations throughout the Midwest chose to carry them. While many of us were still left without access to a handful of games here and there, it was easy enough to pull up the radio broadcast or use the MLB Gameday app. But that cobbled-together experience leaves a bit to be desired. So how do we fix it?
Well, as I’ve said many times in the past, and as Michael Canter wrote earlier this year, the best solution would be an all-inclusive Cubs Network. Mike focused on the idea of a subscription-based streaming service, while I’ve mainly harped on the need for an independent cable channel. And while details are still vague at this point, the Cubs plan to implement at least the latter of those two concepts in order to help fans see clearly by 2020.
The announcement of plans to launch a stand-alone network came from Biz Ops honcho Crane Kenney on the new radio home for Cubs baseball on Wednesday morning.
On @670TheScore, Crane Kenney said the Cubs plan to have their own cable network launched in 2020. That will provide a massive payroll.
— Chris Emma (@CEmma670) November 11, 2015
This is significant for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the additional programming they’ll be able to run. It’s going to be cool to have 24-hour Cubs coverage with shows like Rain Delay Theater, Game of Throwns (starring Khal Schwarber), Beard and Beered (I think this could work as a drinking-trivia game show featuring Jake Arrieta), Care of Magical Creatures (with Jack Hanna and Joe Maddon), and an outdoor show in which fans get to douse themselves with deer urine to go hunting with Jon Lester.
But despite the myriad options to shoehorn Cubs both past and present into all manner of TV shows, the real goal here is revenue. And with the current piecemeal coverage deal scheduled to come to an end in 2019, uniting the brand under a single station would provide a significant windfall to the organization. I mean, just think of how many Viagra and Bud Light Lima-Ahhhh-Rita ads you can cram into such an enterprise!
If the combination of 2019 and increased revenue sounds familiar, it’s for good reason. That’s because that is the year the Cubs’ debt-service payments on the buy-back agreement to a joint trust that technically owns the team are set to end. I think I got that all right. Either way, the idea is that the Ricketts family should have some financial shackles removed at that point even if a new TV deal isn’t in place.
Theo Epstein spoke recently about needing to be creative in terms of the offseason plan, a concept many of us took to mean the Cubs would need to make some trades or some bargain signings. But could this announcement play a role in providing a bit more room for creativity? For instance, anyone who’s had a job that includes commissions or bonus payments knows that you might be a little more willing to splurge when you know you’ve got a big check coming. Think Clark Griswold in Christmas Vacation.
With the Cubs, it’s about more than just a free agent or two though. They’ve got to look at the possibility of extending Jake Arrieta, not to mention arbitration raises and/or extensions for their young core. So while it’s tempting to take the news of this Cubs Network and think it means the team will be able to pursue two big fish this winter, I’m not so sure we should be jumping to those conclusions.
I do believe it gives them more security to land one really big free agent, be that Price or Heyward, and then another smaller deal. I also think the promise of additional revenue also makes the Cubs feel better about perhaps extending Jake Arrieta into or beyond 2020. But the Cubs know it’s dangerous to spend money you don’t have yet, even as safe as it is to bank on the devotion of a fanbase that waited out some really lean years.
We’ll have to wait and see whether Tom Ricketts gives the front office the okay to put a deposit down on that new pool. Until then, you may want to shuffle around your radio presets