Too late to the party? Cubs face challenges in landing game-changing local TV deal

My latest Chicago Tribune column is on the Cubs’ challenge to join the rich teams club with a massive local TV deal.

You also can access the column on my Twitter feed at @Sherman_Report.

From the column:


Theo Epstein has a phrase for the potential of local TV revenue. He says it will be “a paradigm shift” in keeping the Cubs on pace with baseball’s richest teams.

But will the Cubs president of baseball operations get his money?

In a rapidly-changing media landscape, there are questions whether the Cubs can forge ahead with their own network or another platform that will enable them to eventually match multi-billion dollar TV deals that teams like the Dodgers, Texas, Seattle and Philadelphia have landed in recent years.

Ed Desser, a sports media consultant who advises teams on their TV deals, believes the Cubs have much to offer on the TV front as “an iconic brand.”

“The Cubs matter to Chicagoans in ways you don’t see in other markets,” Desser said.

However, one industry observer fears the local sports TV bubble has burst, saying “The Cubs may be too late to the party.”

The Cubs are basically holding serve with new deals with WLS-Ch. 7 for 25 games and a package of 45 games with WGN-Ch. 9 that was formally announced Thursday. They aren’t expected to pull in significantly more than the estimated $60 million value of their current local TV deals, which includes an ownership stake in Comcast SportsNet.

That’s a long way off from the Dodgers’ 25-year, $8.3 billion pact for their new network that launched this year. Now there’s a paradigm shift.

The Cubs, though, weren’t in line for a big payday this year since they didn’t have their entire package of games available. The team exercised an out-clause with WGN to get out of a contract that ran through 2022. Now all of their TV deals will expire in 2019.

That sets 2020 as the key date when the Cubs could launch their own network, which would potentially boost annual TV revenues in the $150-200 million range, if not higher. That kind of cash would allow Epstein to buy more pitchers like Jon Lester.

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