The Marquee Sports Network struck a deal with another cable company to carry the new Cubs TV network in February, but most Chicago pay-TV subscribers remain in the dark — at least for now — at the moment. approaching the launch scheduled for February 22.
Marquee, a partnership between the Cubs and Sinclair Broadcast Group, announced Wednesday the multi-year distribution agreement with Mediacom Communications that will supply the regional sports network to approximately 250,000 pay-TV subscribers outside of the Chicago market, reaching parts of Illinois, Indiana and Iowa.
Viewers in Des Moines, Iowa, for example, will be able to watch the Cubs — something they couldn’t do last season on NBC Sports Chicago, the team’s former cable.
“It’s a big step,” said Michael McCarthy, Marquee’s chief executive.
The network also announced a previously reached agreement with Charter Communications, which will include the network in a handful of small towns in the Cubs’ designated regional market. Major League Baseball defines Chicago’s home broadcast territory as parts of Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, and Wisconsin.
Terms of the Mediacom and Charter carriage agreements were not disclosed.
Last month, Marquee announced an agreement with AT&T to make the Cubs Channel available on DirecTV, U-verse and AT&T TV, ensuring that at least some Chicago-area viewers will be able to watch the regional sports network’s inaugural season.
The network has yet to reach an agreement with Comcast, the largest cable company in the Chicago area, or RCN.
McCarthy declined to comment on the progress of transport negotiations with Comcast, but said the network was ahead of schedule in terms of securing pre-launch deals, with further announcements expected shortly.
“There are instances where launch channels don’t necessarily have distribution deals with months to go,” McCarthy said. “We’re not surprised at what the Cubs mean to this fan base and we’re thrilled.”
SportsNet LA, the cable home of the Los Angeles Dodgers, is one such cautionary tale for regional sports networks. Launched in 2014 with Time Warner Cable, SportsNet LA remains unavailable to most Los Angeles homes after cable and satellite providers balked at higher carrier fees. Charter Communications bought Time Warner Cable in 2016.
Marquee offers cable and satellite providers to insert the new regional sports network into their basic channel listings. That could automatically add $4 to the nearly $9 monthly regional sports fee paid by Chicago-area subscribers, sources close to the team told the Tribune in May.
The new Cubs network will include 150 regular practice games and approximately 30 spring training games, extensive pregame and postgame coverage, classic archival broadcasts and other programming. About a dozen Cubs regular-season games are reserved for national broadcasts, but Marquee will be the only way to watch games on local TV in 2020 after the team part ways with NBC Sports Chicago, the regional sports network that she trained in 2004 with the Bulls, Blackhawks and White Sox.
The Cubs also quit local over-the-air television after 71 years, unplugging WGN-Ch. 9 and WLS-Ch. 7 and moving 70 games between them to Marquee for the upcoming season.
NBC Sports Chicago is defending its pay-TV turf with the three remaining teams and has struck a distribution deal with Comcast — a network partner — as well as other Chicago-area cable companies.