Looking at baseball's broadcast history

February, 7, 2010
2/07/10
11:37
AM CT
LEVINE By BRUCE LEVINE
ESPNChicago.com
Archive

It’s pretty amazing to look at baseball’s broadcast history and see how it’s evolved over the past 62 years.

In 1946, WBKB (then Channel 4) then began broadcasting Cubs baseball. By 1948, the Cubs had moved to WGN television, where they have had their broadcasts for the past 61 years.

The culture over the free airwaves television changed forever when Atlanta’s Ted Turner created the country’s first superstation, broadcasting over WTBS (Atlanta, Ga.) in the mid-1970s. Turner’s Atlanta Braves became America’s team, due to their exposure over the evolving worldwide cable system. In 1978, the Cubs followed suit, as the Tribune allowed certain cable systems to pick up their games for a nominal charge. The rest, as they say, became sports and cable history, as we now have all of baseball’s 30 teams carrying some portion of their games on cable.

So, we turn back to the Cubs and White Sox, who a few years back, started their own cable system, joined by the Bulls and the Blackhawks, as well as Comcast Cable, setting up a company where they split the profits, and called the entity Comcast SportsNet. The cable system pays the Cubs and White Sox a whopping figure for their games -- the Cubs, close to $300,000 a game; the White Sox, around $275,000 a game.

In 2010, both teams will have close to 100 games over Comcast SportsNet. Doing the math, that would bring in somewhere between $25 and $30 million for each of the two teams. WGN television’s payment to the two clubs is unknown; however the price they pay isn’t close to the dollars earned on the cable outlet, according to industry sources.

The Cubs’ future on television will find them venturing out with their own Cubs cable network at some point. The historic National League team has long agreements with Comcast, as well as WGN television and radio. However, the new ownership group, led by Tom Ricketts and his family, are looking into a new 24-hour Cubs station in the future.

The New York Yankees make hundreds of millions of dollars off of their YES Network that they formed 10 years ago. The Yankees show most of their games and have Yankees’ programming 24 hours a day, 365 days a year on their station. The Cubs’ following and their legions of fans across the country indicate a total access cable station of their own would be a huge success.

The Cubs have a long contract with WGN-AM 720 radio, which has carried the Cubs exclusively since the late 1950s (between the 1930s and the 1950s, upwards of three radio stations broadcast Cubs home games at the same time). Other stations’ executives are now convinced that the Cubs' radio rights will go to the highest bidder in the future. The reason that the radio people are that optimistic is that the Tribune no longer owns both the Cubs and their broadcast partners.

The Chicago White Sox have been on WSCR-AM 670 radio for the past five seasons; 2010 is the last year of that contract. The rights fees were previously paid for and operated by WMVP-AM 1000 radio for the 10 years prior to WSCR’s contract.

Although the Cubs and Sox have different fan bases and are fierce rivals, they have tens of millions of dollars together as partners in Comcast SportsNet.

Bruce Levine | email

Chicago baseball beat reporter
Bruce Levine has covered sports in Chicago for over 28 years and hosts "Talkin' Baseball," heard Saturday mornings on ESPN 1000.

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BA LEADER
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