Published on Sunday, 07 February 2010 00:48
The Chicago Cubs released their 2010 TV broadcast schedule
this week. Instead of filling Cubs fans' hearts with hope & joy as this annual announcement usually does, it has filled them with sadness. More than likely, this schedule signals the beginning of the end of a Cubby tradition -- Chicago Cubs baseball on WGN-TV.
Out of the 162 televised Cubs games, only a maximum of 64 will be on WGN, although more than likely, the number will be 58 games. The reason being that for six of the games, Fox or ESPN has the option of picking them up. Since Chicago Cubs broadcasts tend to be very high ratings winners for these networks, it is a safe bet that they will pick up these broadcasts unless the Cubs are just dismal this year, or a much higher profile game happens to be on at the same time that they have the option of airing.
Chicago Cubs baseball has been broadcast on WGN television since 1948. In those 62 years, there has NEVER been a year when only 58 games aired on WGN. This will be an all-time low.
The games will be split up between WGN, WCIU, Comcast SportsNet, and Comcast SportsNet Plus (which could show up on CLTV, a cable access channel, or any random channel on your cable TV lineup), with a few national games on ESPN and Fox. The Cubs' home opener will only be seen on WCIU. Their second game will be on Comcast SportsNet Plus and their third game on regular Comcast SportsNet. There will not be a Cubs game until their fourth game, which is five days into the regular baseball season.
The Cubs have one of the biggest national followings in all of baseball, much of which is credited to WGN-AM's far reaching transmissions and to WGN-TV's national reach via their cable/satellite superstation, which goes out to an estimated 70 million homes outside of the Chicago market. With so many games being shown on WCIU & Comcast SportsNet, many fans outside of Chicago will be unable to watch the broadcasts. With Comcast's channels not being seen in every home due to no cable or a different television content provider, even many Chicagoans will be missing out of seeing Cubs games in their own homes.
This isn't a new problem -- Cubs games have appeared on Chicago cable channels at a growing rate since the mid- to late-1990's. At first, this was done to accomidate the WB Network programming, which WGN signed up with in the 90's. The cable broadcasts quickly became commonplace for a different reason: money. The Cubs found they could make as much as double the income from a cable broadcast as they could from a broadcast on WGN-TV. Having millions of potential viewers is great. However, to Cubs management, having millions of potential dollars is more important, viewers be damned.
It should also be noted that when the Ricketts family purchased the Chicago Cubs organization a few months ago, they also purchased a healthy share of Chicago's Comcast SportsNet.
The ever-shrinking amount of WGN-TV broadcasts and the ever growing amount of broadcasts on cable seems to indicate that the Chicago Cubs are pointing to the direction of moving all their locally shown games to a cable channel, possibly even their own cable network. The day will come when the only way to see your favorite baseball team will be to pay an added fee to your television provider for access to that team's private network or subscribe to an expensive sports package like DirecTV's "Extra Innings" baseball broadcasts.
This year's broadcast schedule seems to indicate that day is coming sooner, rather than later.
It's not all bad news, though. The Chicago Cubs and WGN-TV still have a top notch broadcast crew delivering an excellent show when the games are on. Cubs announcers Len Kasper and Bob Brenly are a terrific team and one of the best tandems in all of televised baseball broadcasting. Maybe even more to the Chicago Cubs credit, they still show more games on free TV than most other teams in Major League Baseball. The problem is... that is no longer saying much.
For any Cubs fans over the age of 21, watching Cubs games on WGN-TV is a heart warming tradition. Cubs fans well older than 21 will remember the broadcasts by Jack Brickhouse, one of the greatest announcers of all time, and Harry Caray, one of the greatest fan favorites of all time, both of whom did their most memorable work on WGN's Cubs baseball broadcasts. Seeing the Cubs logo appear on Chicago's Channel 9 meant spring was finally here. For longtime fans, there is much more to seeing Cubs games on WGN than just watching baseball on TV. There is an emotional attachment to seeing the games. There is an closeness connected to the many years of memories of seeing the ivy-covered walls of Wrigley Field on "Chicago's Very Own" TV station.
It is completely understandable that the Chicago Cubs would not be on WGN-TV forever. Very little stays the same in life. Progress happens. The Cubs broadcasts are progressing to a new platform and a new delivery model. That progress is pulling Cubs games away from WGN-TV. Sadly, this progress is also pulling broadcasts away from millions of Cubs fans. Maybe the worst offense is the fact that this "progress" is pulling at the hearts of those who care about the Chicago Cubs the most.