Chicago news: Cubs still in limbo over TV deal

It’s the end of September. Do you know where you will be watching the Cubs on TV next year?

My Chicago Tribune colleague, Robert Channick, has the latest on the Cubs TV situation, regarding the WGN part of their package.

It seems like everything is in play. Channick writes:

The Chicago Cubs may be headed for extra innings in their search for a new television home.

With one week left in the season, and its expiring agreement with WGN-Ch. 9, the team has yet to announce broadcast plans for 2015 and beyond. Sources say the Cubs are exploring everything from a private equity partnership to a new regional sports network, but a long-term deal may not be imminent.

I do get the sense that the Cubs are working on a long-term arrangement that will allow the team to form their own network in 2020. From the story:

Sources say the team is in negotiations with TPG Capital, a Texas-based private equity firm with deep roots in sports and entertainment, to be a partner in monetizing broadcast rights.

TPG, founded in 1992 by David Bonderman, manages $66 billion of capital, including a 35 percent stake in Creative Artists Agency, a Los Angeles-based talent agency that represents top actors, musicians and more than 650 professional athletes.

A spokeswoman for TPG declined to comment.

The closest parallel to a Cubs-TPG partnership may be the YES Network, home of the New York Yankees, which formed in 2002 with Goldman Sachs and Providence Equity Partners owning a combined 40 percent of the network. The equity firms divested their stakes this year when 21st Century Fox took majority ownership of YES, a deal that valued the network at $3.9 billion.

Then there’s this scenario:

Another potential partner is Root Sports, owned by a subsidiary of DirecTV. Root, formed in 2011, has regional sports networks in Seattle, Denver and Pittsburgh, and it’s looking to take over Comcast SportsNet Houston.

AT&T’s $48.5 billion acquisition of DirecTV, pending approval by the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Justice, may make Root a bigger player in the regional sports network game, according to some industry experts. The merger will create a combined subscriber base of nearly 1 million households in Chicago — 590,000 for DirecTV and 391,000 for AT&T, according to SNL Kagan — guaranteeing clearance if an RSN were to be launched here.

A spokesman for DirecTV Sports Networks declined to comment.

Channick writes the Cubs also could do a deal with Comcast that goes beyond 2019, the expiration for their current pact with CSN Chicago.

Regardless of the long-term outcome, I predict the short-term component of their TV package will see the Cubs staying on WGN through 2019. We should find out soon.



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