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The new Marquee Sports Network will be Baltimore-based Sinclair’s first regional sports channel. It owns and operates 191 local broadcast television stations as well as the Tennis Channel.
“We’ve been looking at this space for a long time,” said Chief Executive Officer Chris Ripley. “It’s very complementary with our existing business.”
Chicago Cubs games are currently on Comcast Corp.’s NBC Sports Chicago channel and over-the-air broadcast stations WGN-TV and WLS-TV. After 2019, all games will move to the new cable channel.
“This will most likely be the last season with over-the-air games,” said Crane Kenney, the Cubs’ president of business operations. Chicago is something of an anomaly among Major League cities in having dozens of games still available on free TV.
Sinclair will handle getting Marquee on cable and satellite systems in the Chicago area. Neither Sinclair or the Cubs would comment on how much it will charge distributors to carry the channel. NBC Sports Chicago costs close to $5 a month per subscriber, according to industry consulting firm Kagan, S&P Global Market Intelligence.
Once considered premier properties, regional sports networks have become victims of cord-cutting by consumers, and distributors are starting to balk at the high prices. In Los Angeles, AT&T Inc.’s DirecTV hasn’t carried Dodger games in several years because it can’t come to terms with Charter Communications Inc., which distributes the team’s games and manages the Dodger channel.
While the loss of the Cubs will be a blow to NBC Sports Chicago, it recently signed five-year deals to keep rights to the White Sox baseball team, Blackhawks hockey team and the Bulls basketball team.
Sinclair is also pursuing 21st Century Fox’s 22 regional sports networks, people familiar with the matter said. The government is requiring Walt Disney Co. to sell them as a condition for approving Disney’s acquisition of most of Fox’s assets.
21st Century Fox and Wall Street Journal parent News Corp share common ownership.
Besides Sinclair, other bidders for the channels include Liberty Media Corp. and Major League Baseball, people close to the matter said.
One of the networks—Yankees Entertainment & Sports Network LLC—will likely be sold separately from the other 21. The Yankees own 20% of YES and have first dibs on the remaining 80%. Sinclair is in talks about joining with the Yankees on the team’s bid, the people familiar with the matter said.
Nonbinding bids were submitted last month. One bidder said more financial information from the sellers will be needed before binding bids are made. There is also a debate about how the sale will proceed, people close to the matter said. The Yankees want Disney to sell the other 21 networks first, then negotiate the YES deal. Disney would rather sell YES first since it is seen as the most valuable property and a potentially less complicated deal.