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Cubs Remain Determined To Launch TV Network

Jason Barrett

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In recent years, Cubs’ owners, the Ricketts family, have raised ticket prices, added large video boards to Wrigley Field to capitalize on advertising revenue, and next up for the 2016 World Champions might be their own television network.

The Cubs’ current contracts with NBC Sports Chicago, ABC-7 and WGN-9 expire after the 2019 season. Since purchasing the franchise in 2009, the Ricketts family has looked toward the 2020 season as a target for launching their own TV network.

“We have a big passion for controlling our own destiny,” said Crane Kenney, the Cubs president of business operations. “It’s sort of like conversations in the real estate market. We like controlling our own destiny. You start adding partners and it becomes a lot more complicated.”

Some fans may not be excited about the need to purchase a more premium cable package to access Cubs games when they get their own network, but a TV network deal could potentially fund the player payroll and allow GM Theo Epstein to compete with the likes of the Yankees and Dodgers for premium free agents.

“(Bulls and White Sox Chairman) Jerry Reinsdorf has been an amazing partner, as has Comcast,” Kenney said. “It’s been a very successful thing. If it made the ultimate sense, it would (make sense to stay). But I’d say at the moment we’re 80 percent inclined to do it on our own.”  In their current contract, the Cubs own a 20% stake in NBC Sports Chicago, formerly Comcast Sportsnet Chicago.

This past season the Cubs also streamed four games on Facebook and are not opposed to a deal with a digital company. Considering the Facebook broadcasts were not heavily promoted, the Cubs were very satisfied with the results.

“These are conversations we’re having today, that’s the next phase of the test,” said Kenney. “One of the questions we’ve been asking is, what if you sold OTT rights separate from your linear package?”

With the growth of digital media companies, and their willingness to invest in sports programming, the Cubs see potential in a partnership with Facebook, Amazon, Twitter and others.

“There’s a strategy where widely distributed over-the-air television broadcasters can reach an incremental audience by distributing on a platform like Facebook,” said Dan Reed, Facebook’s head of global sports partnerships. “Facebook reaches a different audience. It’s an audience that’s on the go and accustomed to spending more time on their phones.”

The Cubs are locked into their current TV contracts for 2018 and 2019, but for a major market franchise as popular as they are, it ‘s logical for them to control their TV rights on their own network in the future.

Brandon Contes is a freelance writer for BSM. He can be found on Twitter @BrandonContes. To reach him by email click here.

Sports TV News

Stephen Nelson: Joining Dodgers Booth ‘Different Challenge Than I’ve Ever Had’

“If you grew up a fan of sports in Southern California, you had Vin Scully…Jaime Jarrin…Chick Hearn…Ralph Lawler…Every single night you could listen and watch broadcasting greatness.”

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MLB Network Intentional Talk co-host Stephen Nelson is joining the Los Angeles Dodgers television booth, and is slated to call at least 50 games for the franchise on Spectrum SportsNet LA in 2023.

Nelson will work games when lead play-by-play announcer Joe Davis is on assignment for national games as the lead announcer for MLB on FOX and is the network’s number two NFL announcer.

In an interview with Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic, Nelson was cognizant of “the weight and responsibility” that comes with working for the Dodgers.

“It’s a different challenge than I’ve ever had,” Nelson said. “If you grew up a fan of sports in Southern California, you had Vin Scully, you had Jaime (Jarrín), had Chick Hearn or you’re listening to Ralph Lawler on the Clippers. Every single night you could listen and watch broadcasting greatness … even though they weren’t teaching a class directly, I still went to their school.”

The 33-year-old Nelson will be the only Asian American play-by-play broadcaster working Major League Baseball, and he’s proud of that distinction.

“It means everything to me,” Nelson said. “To be in a position where I can help further pave the way for the next wave of AAPI broadcasters or minority broadcasters — because if you look around the sport, and sports in general, it’s pretty embarrassing, to be frank. That’s something that I do not approach lightly at all. It’s a massive responsibility.”

In 2022, Nelson worked as a play-by-play announcer for AppleTV+’s Friday Night Baseball franchise, mostly on the outlet’s “West” games, alongside Hunter Pence, Katie Nolan, and Heidi Watney.

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Sports TV News

Greg Olsen Can Leave FOX For Another Network

“When Tom Brady is ready, that chair is his.”

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Greg Olsen

Now that Tom Brady’s playing career is officially over, plenty of people are talking about what comes next. He has a contract from FOX on the table that will put him in the network’s top NFL booth when he is ready. What that means for Greg Olsen remains unclear.

Olsen has won plenty of fans this season. Last week, he told ESPN 1000 that he is a “big boy” and he “knew what he signed up for” when he was elevated to the top slot at the network alongside Kevin Burkhardt. When Tom Brady is ready, that chair is his.

Plenty have speculated that FOX could go with a three-man booth. That way the network gets the benefits of both Brady’s star power and Olsen’s ability to dissect a game.

There is another option for Greg Olsen though according to Andrew Marchand. The New York Post writer reports that Olsen can opt out of his contract at FOX and join another network if he is offered a job.

Olsen cannot take just anything. He can only pursue a job in another network’s top booth if offered. That spot is locked up for every network with an NFL TV deal currently, but it won’t be forever and Greg Olsen has proven his worth to the broadcasting world this season.

“He could end up being this generation’s Cris Collinsworth, having a long, lucrative career, despite not having played quarterback or for the Cowboys or in New York,’ Marchand writes. “People love an underdog — especially if the person delivers.”

While Tom Brady will eventually be Kevin Burkhardt’s partner, it will not happen on February 12th. FOX is sticking with Burkhardt and Olsen to call Super Bowl LVII.

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Sports TV News

Molly Qerim: Stephen A. Smith and I Have Never Had a Mike and the Mad Dog-Style Fight

“We’re definitely annoyed at each other for times. There were times when we were very, very annoyed.”

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Mike and the Mad Dog were celebrated on First Take Wednesday morning for their legendary careers. One topic that came up was their legendary fights, with host Molly Qerim saying — luckily — she’s never had that issue arise with Stephen A. Smith.

Nearing the conclusion of the episode, Qerim pointed out how ridiculous some of the arguments between Mike Francesa and Chris “Mad Dog” Russo became, bringing up the legendary discussion about the restrooms at Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium.

“You guys would debate everything, even bathrooms,” Qerim said. “You really debated bathrooms.”

Francesa and Russo then discussed how the bathroom discussion led to months of silence, where they did not speak to each other outside of the show for more than five months, before Francesa’s wife invited Russo to their wedding, which eventually squashed the beef.

“Think about it. If you two (Smith and Qerim) did not get along, and for five months and you walked in here and didn’t talk to each other either before, during or after (the show),” Russo said. “That’s hard to pull off.”

“We never did that,” replied Qerim. “We’re definitely annoyed at each other at times. There were times when we were very, very annoyed.”

Francesa asked Qerim and Smith if they’d ever had “a real fight” with both immediately responding no.

Smith did note — somewhat jokingly — that he had felt “very bruised” from time to time by Qerim.

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