Ed Sherman has written a couple of pretty good articles, both at his website and in the Chicago Tribune, about what the Cubs might do if they opt out of their agreement WGN-TV to carry 70-75 games per year: operate their own multicast channel.
(To be clear, this is a different deal than the WGN radio situation, in which the Cubs dumped ‘GN for WBBM-AM and the CBS promotional muscle behind it.)
A multicast channel is what “over the air” (OTA) TV has become in the wake of the move to all digital television for US stations in 2009. Now the main TV channels are all “dash ones” (e.g., 2-1, 5-1, 7-1, etc.), and many of these channels carry subchannels (e.g., 5-2, 5-3, etc.) that feature additional programming, usually old TV shows and movies, cooking shows, or infomercials.
With options for OTA relatively scant—the Cubs can’t move the games over to Comcast SportsNet Chicago (CSN) because, frankly, CSN doesn’t want ’em, and no channel that’s a network affiliate can be expected to take them on—the Cubs would either have to go to a another local channel with less reach (such as WCIU-TV 26 or WPWR-TV 50); go crawling back to WGN and accept their newly suggested arrangement with less guaranteed money and more revenue sharing; or, again, start their own multicast channel, which sounds cool at first thought but would have the potential problem of not getting sufficient carriage by satellite and cable providers to warrant the startup and operational expense.
The Cubs have seemed to put themselves in a fairly bad bind, and the underlying reason for the bind is that, to be blunt, the Cubs suck (or at least they are perceived to suck), sporting one of the worst records in the majors this year. Add to that the huge gamble being taken by the club to allow the big league club to flounder while relying on certain recent draft picks to take them to the Promised Land, a gamble that have led a lot of longtime Cubs fans to cool their ardor toward the team, and the prospects for the Cubs to generate significant TV revenue looks a lot more iffy now than it did when they presumably sketched out the idea on a bar napkin at a quarter to two in the morning one night some years ago.
Here are links to Sherman’s articles:
Cubs exploring multicast TV outlets for games
Multicast station? Cubs could leave WGN TV for highly unconventional outlet