Just one month from players reporting to Mesa, perhaps I’d be more excited if I knew how or even if I’d be able to watch games this season. But, in a repeat of last year, I have absolutely no clue what that will look like.
The Chicago Cubs launched the Marquee Network in 2020. It was initially billed as the exclusive TV home for the team. This time last year, carriage deals (or the lack thereof) was a major concern for fans – and rightfully so. While AT&T and Comcast carry the channel, the team has swung and missed when it comes to streaming services, which consumers are flocking to more and more in efforts to avoid lengthy contracts.
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To this point, it’s a lot of the same. If the season opened tomorrow, there would be no Cubs games on either YouTube TV or Hulu + TV, two of the most popular streaming services in the Chicagoland area. And, really, the Cubs haven’t given fans any reason to have optimism they’ll get it done – especially given Hulu’s decision to drop a ton of regional sports networks in the fall.
Last year, we saw Marquee go to the wire in negotiations with carriers, reaching a deal with Comcast literally days before the pandemic-shortened 2020 season began. Without the delayed start to the season, it seemed like a good bet that millions of Chicago-area fans would have been blacked out on the TV front.
Now, the team has a rare chance to make things right and take care of these fans. With two-plus months until Opening Day (albeit a smaller window until spring training kicks off), ownership needs to either re-launch the network as a standalone offering available to fans across the country or get carriage deals in place with more streaming services.
We’ve heard little to nothing on this matter all offseason. Really, all we have heard on Marquee matters is the hiring of Jon Sciambi to replace longtime play-by-play man Len Kasper, who’s heading to the South Side to be the radio voice of the Sox.
Even if the Cubs get a solution in place for the start of camp, the question then should be programming. For a Cubs-centered network, there is an overabundance of non-related programming. It’s pretty hard to tell fans that with one of the oldest franchises in the game, you couldn’t fill the offseason with minor league games, vintage action or documentaries about players and more.
As excited as I once was for Marquee Network, I am not equally jaded. There were missteps at every turn in the inaugural season and, had I not been desperate for some sort of normalcy in 2020, I mightn’t have bothered tuning in at all. If the same pitfalls await us this year, I’ll happily spend my summer with Pat Hughes and Ron Coomer instead.