I've been a bit distracted lately as I've been thinking about cats again, but as we all know (I'm assuming), Spring Training is here!
With the bunting tournament in full half-swing and Kerry Wood drilling Castro on the wrist today, we're starting to see news on a more regular basis coming from the beat reporters. I am, of course, using the term "news" as loosely as the English language will allow and including when Paul Sullivan tries really hard to get Dale Sveum to call Alfonso Soriano a horrible person because he sometimes gets caught staring at his long flyballs.
But in amongst the rabble-rousing and the infatuation with the bunting tournament, there is also some interesting news regarding the future of Cubs baseball broadcasts.
Of course, we all knew that the Ricketts are not thrilled with the existing TV contracts since the Trib set it up to benefit their broadcasting divisions of the corporation since the Cubs were showing good profits without major television revenue lining their pockets. Now Gordon Wittenmyer is reporting that the Cubs are getting ready to do something about it.
Sources say the Cubs expect to begin discussions with WGN at the end of this year on a contract set to expire after the 2014 season. Executives considered the deal below market value before the recent boom. The team’s contract with CSN, which broadcasts roughly half the games, runs through 2019.
So while the Cubs can start shopping around the services of the games currently on WGN, they might not be able to expect going from their current $45 million per year to something like the Rangers' new $150 million per year deal since the entire slate of games is not on the table.
Meanwhile, Gordo also seems concerned that Jerry Reinsdorf could somehow gum up the works:
It’s unclear how complicated the Cubs’ path to leveraging similar riches will be made by the White Sox’ agreements with WGN and CSN or Jerry Reinsdorf’s disproportionate influence at CSN through his dual stakes in the Sox and Bulls.
I'm not nearly as concerned considering that I doubt highly that Ricketts is even interested in negotiating with any of the existing entities beyond 2019.
If I had to guess, people should probably prepare themselves to eventually lose games on WGN altogether. Tom Ricketts and Crane Kenney have both stated before that the Cubs are very interested in starting their own network, so chances are pretty good that not only will they be discussing only the half of games that are on WGN, but they will also probably only be discussing the games through the 2019 season when the CSN contract is also up as I assume they will want to start a newtork with all of the games, instead of half of them.
So WGN may not want to pony up $150 million per year or even $75 million per year to show only half of the Cubs games per season for only five more additional seasons. Afterall, the next five years is probably going involve some pretty damn unwatchable baseball. Maybe if the Cubs were realistically going to be good enough to eventually get the kind of ratings that would pay off for the station in the long run, the price tag could be pushed up, but WGN and its rivals have to know that the long run payoff is getting lined up to go into the Ricketts pockets through the Cubs Network (or whatever they call it).
That opens up the possibility that some network like the NBC Sports Network (formerly known as Versus), might come in with some short-term bid that goes over what WGN is willing to pay to keep the Cubs for the short-term. If that scenario arises, I have very little doubt that the Ricketts will jump at it and tradition be damned.
We already know that he is going to have the Cubs leave WGN as soon as he possibly can to have his own network. So why accept less money in the short term, when that tradition is going to end anyway?
I'm sure there will be much gnashing of teeth and talk from the Gary Kartons of the world that the Cubs are ruining their essence or some stupid nonsense, but this is how the big boys play in the majors. When the San Diego Padres are taking home $75 million compared to the Cubs' $45 million, there is something horribly wrong with the Cubs' situation. To Tom Ricketts' credit, this has been something he has acknowledged as an issue since he took over, so I expect it will get dealt with.
The question is whether Crane Kenney is as good at "business" as Ricketts will have us believe because I have a feeling this process will show us a lot of what he's made of. God help us all.