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Cubs Wed Jun 04 2014
When WGN radio opted out of the final years of their contract with the Cubs in the hopes of renegotiating a more fiscally responsible deal, the writing on the wall was pretty clear: The Cubs were going to be broadcast somewhere else in the future.
Reports from across the Chicago media spectrum say that WBBM-AM 780 will be announced tomorrow as the new radio home of the Cubs. The deal is for seven years, and will likely come in at around $10-$12 million per season in revenue for the team -- at or slightly above the same rate as the WGN deal was.
The change ends the Cubs 90-year run on 720, but it won't be marking the end of legendary Cubs broadcaster Pat Hughes being the voice of the team. He (and his partner Ron Coomer, more than likely) will follow the Cubs to their new home next year, and he'll likely be extended well past that if Hughes doesn't plan on retiring.
The change makes sense, for all parties involved. Here's why:
For The Cubs
Cash is king for the fellas on the North Side. You've heard the rumors about Tom Ricketts possibly selling minority stakes in the franchise to get some cash on hand. This deal with WBBM and CBS Radio gives them exactly what they wanted -- an all cash offer.
Yes, the historical precedent of being on WGN and trying to extend that relationship has some nostalgic value, but taking a below market deal to stay doesn't make any sense for a team that is trying to raise revenues any way it can so they can be major players in the free agent market in a year or two. WGN was reportedly offering other deals with a more complex structure that wasn't totally revolved around cash, but that didn't interest the Cubs at all. I don't think Ricketts and Co. are terribly sad about cutting ties with the Tribune Company (owner of WGN radio) either, as they've encountered their fair share of financial instability in the past.
You might say that it just won't be right that the Cubs aren't on WGN anymore, but then again, they won exactly zero titles on their airwaves. Change for a perennially losing franchise isn't necessarily a bad thing.
For WGN Radio
It's simple: when the Cubs win, their broadcast partners win; when the Cubs lose, their broadcast partners lose. The team is on pace for it's fourth consecutive 90-plus loss season, and losing games doesn't gain listeners. Just as the attendance at Wrigley Field has plummeted, and the TV ratings have sagged, so has the listenership over the airwaves. WGN radio has reportedly suffered losses in the $6 million per year range by broadcasting the Cubs, and this year doesn't figure to be any better. WGN's president and general manager Jimmy deCastro said they were willing to sacrifice some money in their next deal with the Cubs, but not at a price that steep.
"We're behind Theo and Jed, and we were prepared to lose a lot of money, as we have over time, to stick with them as they build," deCastro said. "The economic terms just don't make sense for us. So it's really not us saying we don't want them anymore. It's the Cubs saying that the economics they need are much greater than what we think they're worth or what we'll pay. They chose to go another way economically and made a decision to move on."
WGN was given the chance to match CBS Radio's deal, but chose not to. If the Cubs continue their losing ways for a few more seasons, it'll likely end up being the best decision for WGN when it comes to their bottom line. Without getting some type of guarantee from the Cubs, deCastro is clearly making the right decision for his company.
A recently launched WGN sister station focusing solely on sports talk, 87.7 The Game, might've been a part of the station's pitch to keep the Cubs, but it wouldn't have much of a tangible effect. The 87.7 frequency isn't an option on all digital radio dials in vehicles, and signals for FM stations don't travel nearly as far as the mega AM stations in the Chicagoland area. They do intend to move the station up the dial as soon as it's viable, but that won't be for another couple years.
For WBBM and CBS Radio
The rich get richer? Well, maybe not richer as they'll likely lose money early in the Cubs deal, but the strongest sports powerhouse in Chicago just added the biggest brand to their stable. WBBM itself is already home to the Bears, and it's sister station, WSCR 670 The Score, is the home of the White Sox, along with being the top-rated sports talk station in the city.
WBBM was the favorite to land the Cubs for myriad reasons. They have a powerful AM signal that reaches just as far as WGN, they have the option to simulcast games on their FM sister station, WCFS 105.9, for those looking for better audio quality locally, and they have a fully developed sports department that is able to handle the Cubs.
It also serves as protection for the company in case they don't extend their deal to broadcast White Sox games after the 2015 season. If the Sox move to another station, CBS can simply move the Cubs to 670 (similarly powerful in terms of signal strength) to take their place, and still keep a slice of radio baseball in the city.
The Cubs are moving in a new direction when it comes to broadcasting their games in the future, and this deal is step one in a process the Ricketts family hopes to be a boon in revenue in the years to come.