Cubs

Cubs still planning to launch TV network (but not expecting Dodger megadeal)

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Cubs still planning to launch TV network (but not expecting Dodger megadeal)

The Cubs are absolutely banking on the cable bubble not bursting before they can cash in with a new TV megadeal. There are so many variables within that equation, from a red-hot, DVR-proof team to Major League Baseball’s byzantine rules to Congress and federal regulators. It’s the rise of Netflix, Amazon and HBO Go, plus technology we’re not even thinking about now.

But Crane Kenney can survey the entire landscape and look back at the Dodgers and see what’s happening with SportsNet LA and say this much with certainty: “That deal will never happen again.”

That would be Time Warner Cable’s $8 billion boondoggle and yet another cautionary tale for the entire industry. As president of business operations, Kenney is on the clock again, saying the Cubs are still “focused 100 percent” on launching their own network by 2020.

But there’s no Dodger blueprint with a $300 million payroll on the horizon and a blank check to sign international players (and all those carriage issues in Southern California).

“Remember, there is no sell the rights to someone else and they take all the risk,” Kenney said Saturday, speaking with reporters after his Cubs Convention presentation at the Sheraton Grand Chicago. “The world doesn’t work that way, with one exception: That’s what happened in L.A., where now Time Warner can’t clear the games in half the homes. And obviously it’s a huge loss for them.

“Like everything we do, whether it’s Kiss Cams or anything else, we’re studying it to death to look at the pros and cons and weigh the risks of launching on our own, or launching with a partner.”

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This is a central part to the follow-the-money story in Wrigleyville. Team president Theo Epstein is waiting for that windfall to make sure this young core matures into a perennial contender. Outside of changing baseball leadership and hiring Epstein, chairman Tom Ricketts called this the biggest decision for his ownership group.

“Got to get it right,” Ricketts said.

Kenney also stressed there’s no scenario where the Cubs are getting 100-percent equity in a new channel. It’s always going to have to be working with another big media player, either a content producer and/or a distributor with the infrastructure to get the games into your living rooms.

“The Dodgers are a one-off world,” Kenney said. “But the other deals you read about, whether it’s St. Louis or Seattle, where they got big equity pieces, they’re wearing the risk of cord-cutting and cord-shaving no different than we are at Comcast SportsNet.”

The Cubs have an ownership stake in CSN Chicago, which keeps exclusive cable rights through the 2019 season. Kenney estimated the Cubs would need a two-year runway to build out their new network.

“Can I predict exactly what 2019’s going to look like?” Kenney said. “No, I can’t. (But) we love the trajectory of sports rights. So if you look at any of the recent deals that were done, they’re still going up.

“We love that trajectory. We watch with a very wary eye what’s going on in the cable universe, though. You’d have to be a fool not to pay attention.”

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Kenney did predict one smaller breakthrough for this season: authenticated in-market streaming. MLB recently made a deal with Fox Sports involving 15 teams, which will make games on regional networks available to local cable subscribers (without erasing MLB’s complicated blackout rules).

“I’m finally pretty confident we are going to have streaming in 2016 (on) our mobile devices,” Kenney said. “All of the Fox RSNs will be up this year, (and) I think that’s going to give the league both the pressure and the momentum to get something done with Comcast.”

Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts: 'We’d definitely like to see baseball back'

Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts: 'We’d definitely like to see baseball back'

Should MLB and the players union come to terms on a 2020 season, clubs will suffer revenues losses due to the expected lack of fans at most or all games. But if it comes down to playing or not, Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts prefers the former.

Ricketts said Tuesday the organization "definitely" would rather play an abbreviated 2020 season despite reports suggesting clubs could lose more money under the March agreement to pay players prorated salaries than not playing at all.

"We’ll have to see how it goes but we’d definitely like to see baseball back," Ricketts said on CNBC's 'The Exchange.' "We’d like to see the team back on the field. I know the players want to play, I know the manager wants to manage and I know even if it’s on television only, I think people want to see baseball back."

MORE: Why Cubs, MLB might face 2020 season without key players and what it means

Major League Baseball is meeting with the union on Tuesday to propose financial terms for the 2020 season. NBC Sports Chicago reported Saturday that proposal is expected to be a compromise from the potential 50-50 revenue split previously reported. 

According to MLB insider Jon Heyman, that proposal includes paying players a portion of their prorated salaries, and those with higher salaries would take the biggest pay cuts.

Ricketts suggested in a best-case scenario, the Cubs might make 20 percent of their usual revenues, which appears tied to the one-time startup cost for the club's TV network, Wrigley Field construction costs and buying surrounding buildings in Wrigleyville. Those numbers are disputed by some, however, as owners don't open their books.

MLB's proposal for the season entails a second 'spring' training starting in mid-June, with Opening Day coming around the Fourth of July. Ricketts said the latter isn't out of the question. However, those dates are contingent on the league and union reaching an agreement in the near future.

"It really comes down to how quickly and efficiently the league and the union can get together and hack through the issues," he said.

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Former Cubs pitcher Dan Straily, now in KBO, details games without fans

Former Cubs pitcher Dan Straily, now in KBO, details games without fans

Cubs fans may remember Dan Straily. The right-hander pitched for the club in 2014, making seven appearances (one start) before getting dealt to the Houston Astros the ensuing offseason in the Dexter Fowler trade.

Straily now pitches for the Lotte Giants in the KBO, South Korea's highest level of pro ball. The league kicked its season off earlier this month without fans in attendance, a model MLB will likely follow for most (if not all) of its potential 2020 season.

Jon Frankel, a correspondent for HBO's "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel," recently interviewed current and former KBO players about the league's return during the coronavirus pandemic. In an excerpt made available via press release, Frankel asked Straily if he misses playing in front of a crowd.

MORE: Why one medical expert remains skeptical of MLB's COVID-19 precautions

"Of course. Like, even if you're on the road, and people are just telling you how much you suck — you thrive off it," Straily said. "You feed off that energy.”

Crowd noise obviously plays a big part in an athlete's adrenaline. Not having that factor will be an adjustment for MLB in 2020, and Straily took things a step further regarding the circumstances players face without fans in attendance.

“My shortstop dove for a ball. And he missed it by, like, an inch," he said. "Like, it was an incredible effort. When he hit the ground, I heard the air leave his lungs. And we've talked about that in the dugout. Because I've never once in my life heard that.”

Not having crowds to drown out on-field noise could make for a unique viewing experience for fans at home. UFC returned on May 9, and many punches and kicks were audible on ESPN's TV broadcast.

MLB teams could play proxy crowd noise in games, but nevertheless, fans may pickup noises on their TVs previously unavailable from home.

The full episode will air Tuesday at 9 p.m. CT on HBO.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Chicago Cubs easily on your device.