You may have noticed WGN America beginning to air an original series, “Salem” which recently rolled out. It’s part of a plan to convert WGN America from a superstation filled with Chicago programming like the local sports teams and news to a full-scale basic cable network. It means that long-time mainstays the Chicago Bulls, Cubs and White Sox will no longer part of the its programming.
WGN’s owner, Tribune Co., says the sports programming is not paying off in the ratings. Tribune CEO Peter Liguori told reporters that the Bulls, Cubs and White Sox have little to no national appeal and their advertising amounts to less than one percent of Tribune’s operating profit.
As Tribune no longer owns the Cubs, the company feels it has little to no obligation to air their games on WGN America. While the company hopes to keep the team on the Chicago version of WGN, Liguori said, “We will be way, way, way far ahead as a basic cable network without sports than staying in our current state.”
So it means more original programming and pushing sports off the schedule. While baseball and basketball fans have enjoyed watching sports, they’ll now have to find other ways of watching Chicago sports teams, either through MLB Extra Innings, MLB.TV or NBA League Pass. Think about how long WGN and the Cubs have been associated? The Cubs’ national appeal was helped in the 1980’s by being on WGN and having Harry Caray and Steve Stone in the booth.
And basketball fans remember how WGN would air the Michael Jordan-led Bulls during the team’s glory years in the 1990’s.
But WGN changed from simulcasting its Chicago programming nationally in 2007 to making the national feed into a totally separate network, but still airing news and sports. Liguori said the transition will be completed a two to three year period.
It’s going to be hard to believe that we won’t watching the Bulls, Cubs or White Sox on WGN America anymore, but as the times change, so do company philosophies. And Tribune is looking for ways to new ways to generate revenue and sports is not part of that strategy, at least on WGN America.