Cubs Launch New TV Network With Sinclair

Marquee Sports Network will begin in February 2020.

Bruce Levine
February 13, 2019 - 6:00 am
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(670 The Score) A new regional Cubs television network was officially announced Wednesday, as the organization has paired with the Sinclair Broadcast Group to form a new venture called Marquee Sports Network that will launch in February 2020.

At that point, the Cubs will no longer have any games carried on WGN-TV or any over-the-air station. WGN has broadcast Cubs game -- for either full or partial schedules -- since 1948.

Marquee will be a 24-hour all-sports cable station, Cubs president of business operations Crane Kenney said. The network will broadcast every Cubs game that's not committed to the national television carriers -- FOX, ESPN, TBS and MLB Network. Depending on the national broadcast schedule, there figures to be 145 to 150 Cubs games a season on Marquee.

Kenney and Sinclair CEO Chris Ripley will serve as the point men on the new network.

"This venture will be an all-sports station," Kenney told 670 The Score. "I think this will be new and innovative, the way we handle our broadcast hours. We will hopefully begin with all of our spring training games being broadcast in 2020 -- at the the very least, all of our home games from Sloan (Park). We don't expect a broadcasting lull since we will broadcast baseball from February right through early November."

The Cubs will likely have a main studio at Gallagher Way, which sits right outside Wrigley Field. The old business office on Clark Street will likely house the main production studios, Kenney said.

Play-by-play man Len Kasper and analyst Jim Deshaies will continue to call Cubs games. The hiring of technical advisors and salespeople will begin soon for the new network.

The Cubs will be paid a rights fee from the venture. The other profits from sales and distribution will be split on a percentage basis.

Distribution of the Marquee network will be the charge of the Sinclair experts. Selling the product to local carriers will be the task. The biggest hurdle figures to be with Comcast, which owns NBC Sports Chicago, which has its own regional sports partnership with the Blackhawks, Bulls and White Sox. Will there be a conflict of interest or any troubles in negotiations? Sinclair owns 190 stations throughout the country, so that may create some leverage.

The Dodgers signed an $8.3-billion, 25-year television deal with Time Warner back in 2013, a venture that has gone well for the team financially but poorly for consumers because of distribution issues with local cable carriers that have prevented many in the Los Angeles market from getting the games.

Those involved with Marquee don't expect a problem of that sort.

"We are very confident we will get over that hurdle," Ripley said. "At the end of the day, the Dodger situation was very unique for a lot of different reasons -- not the least of which is the power of the franchise. The Cubs and what they mean to Chicago and their fans versus the Dodgers -- not to belittle the Dodgers -- there are just areas of LA (in which) they are not that important. I want to say how excited we are to be partnering with such a storied franchise like the Cubs and be involved in this great city of Chicago." 

Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine​.