You Can Catch it All on WBBM? What Triggered the Cubs’ New Radio Deal?

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Poor Steve Goodman…

As most Cubs fans know, in 1984 when the Northsiders were in the throes of a pennant chase, he recorded the oh-so-popular “Go Cubs Go” track that is once again played on the speakers at Wrigley Field after Cub wins and it becomes “White Flag Time” at the Friendly Confines.

Included in the middle part of the third and final verse, it includes the lyrics: “Baseball time is here again, you can catch it all on WGN…”

Thanks to new Cubs owners the Ricketts Family, that is about to change.

CBS Radio and the Chicago Cubs recently announced a new 7-year $70 million agreement that will allow CBS’s News Radio station WBBM 780 to broadcast Cubs games starting with the 2015 season. The deal ends a partnership (for now) with Radio 720 WGN that goes as far back as 1925—17 years after the Cubs’ last World Series victory, 11 years after the debut of Wrigley Field, and 9 years after the Cubs played their first baseball at the Friendly Confines.

Pat Hughes and Ron Coomer will still remain at the mic for Cubs broadcasts. Reports say that this was “non-negotiable” on the part of the Cubbies’ brass (meaning the Ricketts family and team president Crane Kenney).

The Cubs just aren’t signing a radio partnership with WBBM to broadcast games. It is also supposedly doubling as a marketing partnership as well. It will also allow the Cubs to promote upcoming concerts at Wrigley Field through CBS’s other music radio stations in the Windy City. These stations are WBBM-FM “B96” (CHR), WXRT-FM 93XRT (Adult Alternative), WUSN-FM US 99.5 (Country), and WJMK-FM 104.3 K-Hits (Oldies/Classic Hits). They also own sports WSCR-AM 670 The Score.

In other words, the Wrigley Field Concert Series is essentially a marketing tool now of CBS Radio and the Cubs.

Surprisingly enough, it is this partnership that is the reason why the dollar amount that CBS will pay to the Cubs is actually less than if they would have re-upped again with WGN. Jimmy de Castro went on both of Tribune’s radio stations (WGN 720 and WGWG-LP 87.7 The Game) and expressed that it was a case of the Cubs losing WGN, not the other way around.

While de Castro was a little more reserved when talking to his own media outlets in the Chi, he fired some shots at Clark and Addison in an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times.

“They’re making step by step that are PR nightmares…At the same time, they’ve lost 35 games this year, 288 in the last three years, and no one’s listening or watching.”—De Castro to the Sun-Times

The door was kept open to a return for the Cubs to 720. De Castro, in his interview with 87.7 The Game mentioned how the St. Louis Cardinals ended their long time partnership with KMOX 1120-AM as they pursued their own radio station for a few years. That did not work and the Redbirds eventually returned to KMOX prior to the 2011 season. In the Cards’ first year back, they won the World Series over the Detroit Tigers. He also said that the station would still stay committed to covering Cubs baseball and that they have supported the rebuilding process led by Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer.

De Castro said that from a business perspective, what the Cubs wanted out of the Tribune Company didn’t make sense. He said that they couldn’t justify an arrangement where they lost a grand total of $6 million a year while they’ve maintained their status as the flagship station of the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks who have won two Stanley Cups in the past five years. WGN is also the flagship outlet for Northwestern University athletics. Given the ‘Hawks partnership, it did not make smart business sense to keep the Cubs on the station if they were demanding more than what the Blackhawks were receiving.

If anything in Chicago sports is worth ponying up a full $10 million on, it’s Patrick Kane, not Anthony Rizzo.

Even with this, Robert Feder’s blog on Chicago media reported that WGN still tried everything in their power to keep the Cubs on ‘GN, including granting the team a minority ownership stake in the station.

Ultimately, this wasn’t enough as the opportunity to market Wrigley Field as a concert venue through CBS’ Chicago cluster was too much for the Ricketts Family and Crane Kenney to pass up. The result—the Cubs will be on WBBM 780 starting in 2015.

At the introductory press conference that featured Tom Ricketts, Crane Kenney, Dan Mason (president of CBS Radio) and Rod Zimmerman, who is in charge of CBS’s Chicago cluster, Mason and Zimmerman were presented with honorary Cubs jerseys that said their last names and the number “15” on the back.

Cliff Floyd once wore this number during his short-lived career as a Cubbie.

A third jersey featured “CBS Radio 780” on the back. At the press conference, it was revealed that 780 AM (only a few ticks on the dial shy of 720) will broadcast games while 105.9 FM retains its All-News format.

Feder also reported that whenever there is a scheduling conflict with the Bears (who also have WBBM as a flagship), the Bears will be on 780 while the Cubs will be heard on 105.9. A new logo featuring the Cubs Radio Network has already been released and is on the CBS Chicago website. The Cubs say that network will be duplicated with ‘BBM as the flagger. At the presser, Kenney touted how 780 has the same signal clarity and strength as 720.

With all of this mentioned, only one question needs to be asked—how much money did WGN offer the Cubs?

$19,080,000 a year?

I kid…

It must be asked. After all, it turned out that the CBS amount was actually less than the amount offered by WGN because of the additional incentives given thanks to the concert opportunities for Wrigley Field. Thanks to the upcoming “WrigleyPalooza”, CBS’s offer (if we’re supposed to believe what is coming from CBS and the Cubs) is actually lower than that of WGN’s.

What has to be asked is how much did WGN offer the Cubs? If it was over the $10 million that they’ll be receiving annually from the Tiffany Network until 2021, then the motivation behind the Cubs’ move was about the marketing opportunities and the concerts instead of the money.

If ‘GN’s offer was under $10 million, then CBS basically offered everything short of all of Cook County for the rights to broadcast the Cubs.

With this deal, CBS now has the rights to half of the major professional teams in the City of Broad Shoulders (including the MLS’s Chicago Fire). One of those other teams just happens to be another team that happens to play its games at U.S. Cellular Field—on the South Side of town.

The White Sox air on 670 The Score WSCR. In 2010, the Sox and CBS Radio signed a five year agreement to continue broadcasting White Sox baseball on The Score with Ed Farmer and Darrin Jackson at the call. That contract ends after the 2015 season.

It has been speculated that this move could push the White Sox to pursue other options, especially if they are getting paid by CBS less than what the Cubs are getting via their new contract. After all, it is obvious to say that the Sox’ on-field baseball product surely merits more than the $10 million the Cubbies are about to receive from CBS Radio—does it?

One of the stations that could be in play is WMVP-AM ESPN Radio 1000. They’re one of four ESPN owned and operated stations across the country along with their affiliates in New York (WEPN-FM 98.7 via LMA), Los Angeles (KSPN-AM 710), and Dallas/Fort Worth (KESN-FM 103.3). One reason they could be in play is because they are already the flagship radio station for Chicago Bulls basketball. What do the Bulls and White Sox have in common? Both are owned by Jerry Reinsdorf.

Reinsdorf would surely love to have both of his teams on one station for the cross-promotional opportunities that would explode from such an arrangement.

But, it could be a number of things that are pushing this Cubs bit to have Breakfast at Tiffany’s. From 1981 until the late 2000s, the Tribune Company weren’t just broadcast partners of the Cubbies—they owned the team. So it was very easy for WGN-TV, WGN Radio, and the WGN Superstation to broadcast their games. In Rickettsville, tradition runs second to the big bucks, and Tiffany’s got plenty of them.

Wrigley Field was already a hot concert venue even before the Cubs inked this deal. The temperature at Wrigley just rose a little bit.

One more note to this deal: Cubs TV broadcaster and noted rock music fan Len Kasper once hosted a weekly show Wednesday evenings at 8:00 pm on 93XRT. Any chance of that show returning now that Clark and Addison is now H&H with 22 West Washington Street?

That is neither here nor there. What is obvious is that when a 90 year partnership in radio has severed ties and has at least said “See you later” if not “farewell”, it makes all of us say this:

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