Chicago Cubs, Sinclair Team Up To Launch Marquee Sports Network in 2020
The new RSN will become the exclusive home for all live Cubs games
After months of swirling rumors, the Chicago Cubs and Sinclair Broadcast Group have made it official, announcing plans to launch a joint-venture regional sports network — dubbed Marquee Sports Network — in 2020. The new RSN, which will be co-owned and -operated by the Cubs and Sinclair, will be the exclusive home for all live Cubs games, as well as other exclusive Cubs content and local sports programming. In addition to the joint-venture agreement, the Cubs have simultaneously entered into a long-term rights agreement with Marquee.
In addition to live game broadcasts, which will continue to feature broadcasters Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies, Marquee Sports Network will provide extensive pre/postgame coverage, unique Cubs content, and other local sports programming. Cubs President, Business Operations, Crane Kenney said in the announcement that the long-rumored “Cubs-centric” network will also feature “uncompromising, in-depth, and behind-the-scenes coverage,” and he told 670 The Score that he expects Cubs spring-training games to be broadcast in 2020.
“Providing an enhanced experience for our fans is at the heart of everything we do,” Kenney said in the team’s announcement. “We are excited to better serve our fans with expanded and exclusive programming showcasing our remarkable players, beloved ballpark, and storied past.”
He further told 670 The Score that the team will have production studios right outside Wrigley Field and that the hiring of technical advisors and salespeople for the new network will begin soon. The Cubs will be paid a rights fee from the venture; other profits, such as sales and subscriber fees, will be split on a percentage basis between Sinclair and the team.
Sinclair will be in charge of securing distribution for the Marquee Sports Network, including to Comcast, which owns NBC Sports Chicago and currently carries the bulk of the Cubs’ regular-season games. The NBC-owned RSN inked new multiyear rights deals with the Blackhawks, Bulls, and White Sox last month but will now be without Cubs games. Sinclair President/CEO Chris Ripley told the Chicago Tribune that he’s confident the new network will be widely distributed by not only cable and satellite providers but also OTT/streaming services and that negotiations are already under way.
“This partnership brings together one of the most iconic sports franchises in the country with one of the largest television broadcasting companies,” Ripley said in the announcement. “It is hard to imagine any content that is more unique and valuable than the live sports entertainment the Cubs have been delivering to their fans for more than a century. Sinclair’s strength in production, distribution, and local sales will support bringing more content to more viewers, all while leveraging the latest technology.”
The deal will mark the end of seven decades of over-the-air broadcasts for the Cubs, which have aired at least a partial slate of games on WGN since 1948.
“From preserving and enhancing Wrigley Field to building Sloan Park and Gallagher Way to expanding in-game programming and increasing our social-media engagement, our fans are at the heart of everything we do,” Kenney in the announcement. “It’s time we deliver the comprehensive coverage and rich content they desire.”
The move also comes at a time of tectonic change for the RSN industry, as Disney is in the process of selling 22 Fox Regional Sports Networks as a part of its deal to acquire the majority of Fox’s assets. Sinclair has reportedly been bidding on some of the Fox RSNs, while Major League Baseball and Liberty Media are also rumored to be among the top bidders. A deal is expected to be finalized in the spring.