Back in February, we brought you the story that the Chicago Cubs could possibly exercise an option after this season to leave WGN, their television home since 1948. On Tuesday, they exercised that option.
As of right now, this doesn't mean that the team will leave WGN. The team and network have 30 days to agree to a new deal with increased rates. After that 30 days, the Cubs rights for roughly 70 games will go on the open market to the highest bidder.
The Cubs opting out was expected and makes a lot of sense. If the team didn't opt out, they'd be locked in to their WGN contract until 2023, earning around $20 million for the package. The team earns around $60 million a year from WGN and Comcast. When you consider how much money teams like the Rangers, Dodgers, Angels, Mariners, and Astros (well, what the Astros were supposed to earn) got for their rights over the last could of seasons, you figure the Cubs can do much better.
The main issue with this is that any provider that gets involved with the team would only be getting half of their package – the rest are locked in with CSN Chicago through 2019. Could you see a behemoth like Fox (again) or Time Warner planting their flag in Chicago for just 70 games? I don't think that would happen. And due to the ownership stakes that Cubs owners the Ricketts family, Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz and Bulls/White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf have in CSN Chicago, it would take a lot of movement for another RSN to pop up in Chicago.
At the end of the day, I'd expect the Cubs to stay on WGN – just for a lot more money than what they're getting now. A full slate of games on CSN Chicago would result in even more broadcasting conflicts for the network, and having half of the schedule on WGN would alleviate some of those concerns.