Sinclair Broadcast Group is forming a joint venture with the Chicago Cubs on a new regional sports network that will have exclusive TV rights to the Major League Baseball team’s games starting in 2020.
The move announced Wednesday was expected as the Ricketts family, which owns the Cubs, had publicly expressed a desire to launch its own network for the club. Sinclair — the largest TV station owner in the U.S. — has frequently been mentioned as a likely partner. Terms of the partnership were not disclosed.
As a Major League Baseball franchise that has transformed itself from championship-starved losers to perennial contenders in recent years, the Cubs believe they are enough of an attraction to support a full-time network that will give them the bulk of ad revenues and subscription fees. The channel — to be called the Marquee Sports Network — will also carry Cubs-related programming and other live events.
The Cubs deal is historic because it ends the team’s relationship with Tribune Media-owned TV station WGN in Chicago. WGN has been one of the TV homes for the club since 1948.
It will also end the Cubs’ presence on a local broadcast TV outlet. Along with WGN, the team had 25 games airing on ABC-owned WLS since 2015, a deal that will expire after the 2019 season.
For the last five seasons, the bulk of the Cubs’ games have been carried on NBC Sports Chicago, a regional channel owned by Comcast that also carries the Chicago White Sox.
Marquee will be the first major enterprise for Baltimore-based Sinclair since the FCC quashed its proposed $3.9-billion deal to acquire Tribune Media’s 42 TV stations in August. Tribune has since entered into an agreement to sell the stations to Irving, Texas-based Nexstar Media Group.
Since the Tribune deal fell through, Sinclair has been mentioned as a contender for the regional sports networks that will be sold by Walt Disney Co. after it completes its acquisition of the entertainment assets of 21st Century Fox. Disney has to sell the channels currently owned by Fox as a government-set condition of its $71-billion deal.
Sinclair is also a partner in Stadium, a sports network that is distributed through a combination of cable, broadcast TV outlets and over-the-top streaming services.