CHICAGO — With no time to waste, the Chicago Cubs’ new television network, called Marquee, struck a last-minute deal with Chicagoland’s largest cable company, Comcast, to broadcast their games. The deal allows fans in the Chicago Market to watch the Cubs as early as Friday night when the team hosts the Milwaukee Brewers in its season opener.
“It was a complicated negotiation,” said Crane Kenney, president of business operations for the Cubs. “Usually there has to be a catalyst…I said in January it would probably be either the start of spring training or the start of the regular season as a catalyst to do something.”
Some operators preferred an early agreement with Marquee, being able to offer it to potential subscribers. Others tried to wait for better rates. Comcast also owns a regional sports network, NBCSportsChicago, which previously aired Cubs games and currently airs the Chicago White Sox, Blackhawks and Bulls. The Cubs parted ways with that network after last season, forming their own, which previously aired spring training games in March as well as summer camp scrimmages and exhibition contests. But Comcast subscribers couldn’t watch them.
“I know it’s been painful for our Xfinity [Comcast] fans must have suffered from the long delay, but there was a need for catalyst,” Kenney reiterated. “Turns out it was opening day. And it turns out opening day was July, not March.”
The deal, pushed hard by the Cubs, allows them to avoid messy situations that have happened in other cities. For the past seven years, until this season, Los Angeles Dodgers games have gone unseen by about half of their market, while the Denver Nuggets and Avalanche have also remained invisible to subscribers to Comcast in Denver. The Cubs made sure to avoid the same fate, even though they missed a few spring games.
“This may have been in the top three for my hate mail,” Kenney joked. “We’re just happy to be here.”
Carrying out their own network is one of the latest pieces of a decades-long makeover for the organization that renovated Wrigley Field, built new facilities in spring training and in the Dominican Republic and won a World Series. Every game outside of national broadcasts on ESPN and FOX Sports will be shown on Marquee.
“It’s one of the last boxes to tick,” Kenney said.
Terms of the agreement between Comcast and Marquee were not disclosed.