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.