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Why would Comcast add Marquee now?
A short season that might not even go the distance is a bad buy for any provider.
So, the Cubs spent the weekend hanging out at Wrigley Field, getting legitimately horrifying scared straight lectures from Tommy Hottovy, watching Albert Almora social distance himself from curveballs, and they’ve already lost a starting pitcher to a dishwashing accident. Jon Lester hasn’t pitched yet, but that’s because they’re “saving his bullets.” I’m sure that’s what it is. Things are going great.
Allegedly, Major League Baseball is going to actually release a schedule later today. The season is supposed to start in 17 days, so finding out where and when and how many times they’re going to play other teams seems like something that would come in handy. Then again, given that the deadly virus is now spiking in some of the very cities that the teams are playing in, there’s a decent chance the season gets shut down before it ends—or maybe even before it starts.
So, with all of that, I’m sure the Cubs’ negotiations with Comcast to get them to carry the Marquee Sports Network are going great.
The Cubs, well, at least Crane Kenney, keep insisting the two sides are close to a deal that would put the only place to watch most of the Cubs’ games on the provider that 60 percent of the Chicago TV market uses to have programming shoved into their TV sets.
The idea is that with most people still spending way more time than they’d like to at home, and with no ability to go see any of the games in person (unless you’re dumb enough to go to a rooftop), Comcast has to give in and add the network to keep Cubs fans from losing their shit.
The Cubs finally have the leverage, right?
Oh, hell no.
If you’re Comcast, the whole situation looks a lot different to you.
Back in March when the two sides were talking and were supposedly thisclose to a deal (there’s no reason to believe that’s true), Comcast was looking at passing along somewhere between $4 and $6 per month to their customers so they could show more than 150 Cubs games, plus all of the great ancillary programming that Marquee would provide.
But now it’s July, and the Cubs still need Comcast to give them that much money per household (because it’s a near certainty that if Comcast pays less than any of the providers that the Cubs actually do have deals with, that the Cubs will have to lower the amount for those other providers). Only now they’re not going to air 150 games, it’s probably going to be more like 54, max. Some games will be on FOX or ESPN, and we don’t really know how many yet.
And, in the four-plus months they’ve been on the air, Marquee hasn’t exactly dazzled the people (like me) who can actually watch their network with the quality of the stuff they have. The Ryan Dempster chat show is every bit as terrible as we all feared it would be. Their half-hour panel show, Cubs 360 is only interesting for the first 30 seconds to check in to see what shade of orange Bruce Levine is that day.
He’s usually somewhere between an orange sherbet push pop and a Division III basketball.
Sure, we have yet to see what their pre and post-game shows are going to be. Hopefully they’ll be as enthralling as the ones on NBC Sports Net Chicago were, when we’d all tune in to see if this was going to be the day when David DeJesus learned how to close his mouth when he wasn’t talking. Spoiler alert: it never happened.
But it’s not just that. Comcast would be adding a channel and charging their customers for it every month, when that network, at most, will be showing real, live games for two of the next seven months?
How would it make any financial sense for them to not wait until next March to see if baseball was really back for good and then add the channel?
This is where the Cubs’ stupefyingly dumb decision to not line up a partner for the channel really stands out. Because even if they play all 60 games after the re-start, what are they going to show in October, November, December, January, and February? There might not even be exciting Dayton men’s basketball games to air. Maybe they can start showing Ricky O’Donnell’s simulated WIU dynasty?
But it’s not just that they were greedy and dumb enough to think that they could go it alone (even the Yankees brought the friggin’ Nets with them on their network), take it from somebody who tries to watch Marquee, you’re not missing anything.
I could give them the benefit of the doubt and say that any new network would be screwed if a couple of weeks before the bulk of their programming was about to start a killer virus started infiltrating every corner of the globe. But I’m not going to do that for one simple reason.
They have had NOTHING to show. The Ricketts kids have known they wanted to launch this network for 11 years. Since the day their dad bought the Cubs for them, one of the big goals was to get complete control of their TV network and most importantly the TV money. With that kind of head start, a competent organization would have started at least conceiving of all of the cool programming they wanted to produce.
When they signed the short-term deals with WLS and WGN that were timed to expire with the NBC Sports Net contract, that was the time to actually start producing some content.
You really expected that when the terribly named Marquee Sports Network went on the air that there would be a whole number of documentaries on past Cubs great players, great seasons of the past like 1984, 1989, 1998, 2003, 2015, 2016, and…oh, whatever. The one thing the Cubs have always had were personalities.
What did we actually get? A repurposed documentary on Kerry Wood’s 20 strikeout game (did you know he did that?), a documentary on Ernie Banks that was…fine, and a well done special on The Dave Owen Game co-starring Ryne Sandberg.
That was it.
So, if you’re Comcast and you’re in a Zoom meeting with the Cubs, which is probably 40 minutes of Crane trying to figure out how to change his background so it looks like he’s on a yacht, don’t you want to know what the hell they are going to show when this super-short season is over?
I would love to hear that answer. If it’s anything other than a call-in show where Todd gives property tax appeal advice I’ll be amazed.
Could I be wrong? Of course I could. The one thing that Comcast and the Cubs have in common is that both consistently make dubious decisions that screw over their customers, so maybe there’s hope for a deal.
But not much.