According to Kathy Bergen and Robert Channick of the Boston Herald, the Ricketts family could be looking at forming a new regional sports network when their television contract expires in 2020.
Thomas Ricketts purchased the Cubs for an estimated $875 million in 2009 and currently shares ownership with his wife and four children. Following the 2014 season, the Cubs opted out of its contract with local network WGN-TV, giving the network a 30-day notice to agree to higher fees for upcoming seasons before opening negotiations with competing stations.
The two parties reached a deal prior to the 2015 season, during which WGN-TV agreed to a five-year extension that would allow the station to broadcast 45 games per season through 2019. The Cubs also have a partnership with Comcast SportsNet Chicago, which airs 79 games per season and pays the club $500,000 per game.
While the idea of a separate regional network has been more or less on the table since 2015, the Herald points out that the Cubs’ recent World Series appearance could give the Ricketts family more control when it comes to media rights, making this an optimal time to shake things up. Per Bergen and Channick:
Media rights most likely will become the biggest direct source of revenue for professional sports teams by 2018, according to a forecast by consulting firm PwC.
Should they pursue their own network, they wouldn’t be the first to do so. The Dodgers made waves in 2014 when they partnered with Time Warner Cable to launch their own regional network, SportsNet LA. The 25-year deal came with its own set of drawbacks, including a heftier price tag for cable providers that the Herald estimates will have a negative impact on similar deals in the future.
Either way, the Ricketts still have a few years left to consider their options before making the move.
The business is still good for everyone even though there’s fraying at the edges as you see some of the (cable) cord-cutting going on,” Crane Kenney, president of business operations for the Cubs, said last month. “Since our rights don’t come back to us until the 2020 season, we have a little bit of time to see which way the market goes.