Cubs may part ways with WGN-TV after 2014 season

CubsLogo-WGNAMMESA, Ariz. — Cubs games have been broadcast on WGN-TV since 1948, a relationship that has been beneficial to both under three sets of ownership.

The hiring of Harry Caray and the move to become a superstation status spread the gospel of Cubs baseball nationally during the 1980s, helping turn the lovable losers into a lucrative franchise.

For years the Cubs were the only game on TV across the country in the daytime, making them a nationally beloved entity through thick and thin. That in turn helped increase the franchise’s value from $20.5 million in 1981 when Tribune Co. bought it to $845 million when the Ricketts family purchased the team, the ballpark and 25 percent of Comcast SportsNet in 2009.

But Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts is always looking to increase the team’s revenue sources, and now it appears likely the team will wave goodbye to their longtime TV home when its contract ends after the 2014 season.

Ricketts declined to address their plans on Sunday, except to say a discussion on rights fees will begin in 2013.

“Obviously local media rights have been increasing in value,” he said. “Hopefully at some point we will be able to get more value for our media rights. It’s just something that’s playing out over time.”

Ricketts addressed many issues on Sunday, saying the Cubs aren’t planning to add extra night games or signage this season. They are trying to convince the city to relax ordinances that would allow them to make those changes, promising to pay the freight for their $300 million Wrigley Field renovation plan when a deal is completed.

But the question about whether the Cubs will leave WGN moved to the front burner after former TV analyst Bob Brenly said Saturday he was ready to return to the broadcast booth before being informed only two years of his contract would be guaranteed because the WGN deal expires after ’14.

The Cubs eventually signed Houston’s Jim Deshaies to a four-year deal. Cubs business president Crane Kenney declined to comment about Brenly’s remarks.

The Rickettses have shed players, managers, announcers, executives, scouts, even the employee responsible for getting the seventh-inning stretch singers over the last two years. But leaving WGN would mark the end of an era soaked in nostalgia.

The Cubs are a bottom-line team, and have decreased payroll by 25 percent in the first three seasons of the Ricketts family ownership. But Ricketts said: “You’re kind of comparing it to Tribune (Co.) payrolls of the last couple years, which, from our standpoint and the team standpoint, were just unsustainable.”

Tribune Co. steadily decreased the number of Cubs games on WGN over the years because more money could be made on cable. And now that Tribune Co. no longer owns the team, the Rickettses have no obligation to keep the games on their station.

“We’ll find out a lot more over the next 12 months,” Ricketts said.

The Cubs have explored having their own network, and a source said they’ve even filmed interviews with legendary players for future use in network programming. But asked about those plans, Ricketts said, “we’re still in the early stages and don’t have all the options laid out.”

The rights fees are expected to increase significantly after the WGN contract ends, but their deal with Comcast SportsNet runs through 2019. Ricketts said the Cubs have a “great partnership with WGN” and the fact that fans across the country can see them on the superstation will be a “factor” in the decision.

But tradition and fans obviously won’t play into the decision as much as money.

19 comments

  • Jay

    This is a total dislike! I live downstate and if the games aren't on WGN we are screwed! Come on Tom Ricketts, not all your fans live in Chicago! Don't think with your wallet, think with your heart, think of all fans!!

  • Nancy O

    I also live downstate and listen to the Cubs on WGN at work every day they are on. I don't get to the city much and this is the only way I love to listen to Pat Hughes broadcast the game. Sorry not the same on any other station.

  • Patty Pason

    For once stop thinking of the money and think of the fans like in the good old days. You want to make more money, broaden your fan base. When all of the games were on WGN, fans were found all across the United States. I live in Nevada and fans I meet that aren't from Chicago told me that since WGN was about the only station to broadcast baseball, they became life long Cubs fans. Cut off that life line and you cut off your revenue. Think about it and think about us displaced fans.

  • Linda

    I live in Oregon and became a Cubbie fan due to WGN & Harry back in the old days. Loved commercial breaks when they would roam the stands to find "lovely ladies". I would miss WGN and the Cubs. Bolted from watching the Braves when TBS gave them up.

  • david

    Time to boycott the Cubs if the Ricketts family drops the ball, sadly I may have to resort to become a Sox fan. Almost as bad as having to root for Green Bay last season against Minnesota, oh the pain

  • david

    Greed goes before the fall, if WGN is ousted there will be a lot ta pissed off people namely my pops who has been watching the Cubbies longer than the Ricketts family has owned them. Stupid people always greedy. Maybe the Ricketts family purchased the Cubs strictly for a tax write off.

    Maybe some great hat inventor will make a cubbies hat that resembles a goat, and lift the curse !!!

    Go Cubs Go….Go Cubs Gooooooo. hey there watta say cubs are gonna win today!

  • Nortside gal

    Lifelong Cub fan, 3rd generation…..they keep taking away what makes the cubs the cubs and me a fan. Soon any reference to the cubs will start with "remember the good old days…" Bah….don't bother tweeting the scores…I'll be watching something else.

  • John D. Hinckley

    I always knew that when the Ricketts' bought the Cubs it would turn out this way. It's too bad that all they think about is the money and not the loyal fans.

    • Nortside gal

      Guess they figure they can do just fine without fans……look at the empty seats at sox games. Now if we each had a lcd billboard strap to our ***, and a big check, fans might figure into it.

  • Harry Friedman

    A life long Cubs game who grew up in Chicago watching my beloved Cubs games on WGN and still today I'm watching the Cubs on WGN while I live in Maryland and will be pissed if this damn ownership decides MONEY is more important than loyalty and spreading the Cubs all over America. It's bad enuff we have a stinking lousy team on the field with one of the highest prices in baseball to see a game at Wrigley Field and dropping the Cubs from WGN would really stink all cuz of the Ole Mighty Dollar….

  • Anthony

    I am a cubs fan and we only get wgn and wciu for cubs games and if they drop wgn, how in the heck am i to watch cubs games. I grew up watching the cubs. I will be ticked if the cubs are no on wgn anymore.

  • Derk

    i've been watching the Cubs games since 1980 when i was kid. they where the only team on during the day, that is what turned me into a Cubs Fan. i will have to quit watching baseball if I don't have the cubs

  • geri

    i live in florida and i watch all the cub games on wgntv. i have been a cub fan for 70 years and it would
    be a sad thing if you take my cubs away from me. dont let money make the difference in your plan to take the games off of wgn tv.

  • therr

    Talk about "good ole days", I remember watching every game of the Cubs AND the White Sox on WGN. Every year since there have been fewer Cubs games each year and it stinks. I live in Michigan so cable games are not an option and I don't see paying MLB to see or listen to the Cubs so no one makes money.

  • HARLEY

    I THINK THIS STINKS. I AM 79 AND HAVE BEEN A CUB FAN MOST OF THOSE YEARS GOING BACK TO THE 1940'S MY DAD WAS A CUB FAN AND DIED NEVER SEENING THEM WIN A PENUT EITHER. HOPE MY GRANKIDS LIVE LONG ENOUGH TO SEE THEM WIN SOMEDAY.

  • Charlie

    Came to this country at 18 after suriving Auschwitz and other camps. Lived near Wrigley field, could not understand what all the screaming was until went to see a game. Johny Schmitz was our best pitcher wearing #53. Bill Nickelson was our right fielder, #35. Andy Pafko was our center fielder #48. Bert Wilson was our broadcaster on WIND. I am a die heart Cub fan, going through several manager changes, when Phil Cavaretta became manager telling old man Wrigley he can not win with this team, rightly so, he got fired on the spot. Cubs finished last for the next several years. Now when they are looking good and maybe going to the World Series, PLEASE DO NOT TAKE WGN AWAY FROM US!

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