Cubs Switching Radio Partners Next Season
The Chicago Cubs are expected to announce a new seven-year deal with WBBM Newsradio for the ballclub’s radio broadcast rights Thursday, ending a 90-year relationship with WGN Radio. If the Cubs can break that longstanding relationship can a World Series title be far behind? (Don’t answer that question; it was rhetorical.)
WGN Radio president Jimmy DeCastro confirmed the move Tuesday and said it was mainly a business decision. The station earlier exercised its option not to reopen the contract.
“It’s not that we don’t love the Cubs,” de Castro said. “It’s that it just doesn’t make business sense on an AM radio station given today’s new media opportunities and ways for advertisers to buy the Cubs.”
The move makes great sense for the Cubs. WBBM simulcasts on 780 AM and 105.9 FM and, as Robert Feder notes, is the top-billing station in the Chicago market for advertising revenue. WBBM also broadcasts Bears games and there’s a possibility the Cubs could shift their radio broadcasts to WSCR-AM if the all-sports talker loses the rights to White Sox broadcasts next year.
WGN Radio wasn’t helped any by the deal made by former Tribune Co. owner Sam Zell to sell the Cubs to Tom Ricketts and his team in 2009. Feder reports WGN lost $6 million annually in that deal. It’s also possible the corporate synergy between Tribune properties when the Cubs were owned by the media conglomerate inflated the value of the broadcast rights for years. Ricketts had been vocal about exploring the team’s broadcast options when both the radio and television contracts were ready for renewal.
De Castro said, “It’s really not us saying we don’t want them anymore. It’s the Cubs saying that the economics they need are much greater than what we think they’re worth or what we’ll pay. They chose to go another way economically and made a decision to move on.”
Gapers Block’s Chad Ruter writes the deal makes perfect sense for WBBM, which has the infrastructure in place to handle Cubs broadcasts and an AM radio signal that reaches almost as far as WGN. It’s possible WGN offered to simulcast Cubs games on their new all-sports station “The Game” 87.7 FM, but that doesn’t have the brand recognition as WBBM Newsradio.
So start telling your Cubs fan grandparents to change their AM stations next season.