The Cubs will have to find their way through a complicated maze if they are going to capitalize on the media assets they believe will be franchise game-changers.
That could mean the end of a long relationship with WGN-AM 720, which is searching for a new radio analyst at a time when the Cubs are looking at their radio options beyond the 2014 season.
The Cubs have also been in arbitration with WGN-TV, trying to determine the market value to those rights since exercising an opt-out clause to end their deal after the 2014 season.
Industry sources said the Cubs have met with CBS Radio Chicago, though that could be a play for leverage. The White Sox are locked into WSCR-AM 670 through the 2015 season. One theory floated was the Cubs could spend a bridge year on another CBS affiliate before moving to the city’s dominant sports station.
Another source mentioned that ESPN executives from the Bristol, Conn., headquarters visited with chairman Tom Ricketts in 2010, shortly after his family bought the team, as part of a WMVP-AM 1000 event. The station already has a marquee local sports property — a deal with the Bulls that runs through the 2016-17 season — but sources expect the ESPN affiliate to make a run at the Cubs.
It’s unclear if this would be a fit, but sources said to keep an eye on Cumulus Media, which has a presence in Chicago and deals with the Atlanta Braves and San Francisco Giants.
Coming off a two-year stretch in which the Cubs lost 197 games, WGN exercised an option to re-open its contract, the Chicago Tribune reported last month, meaning the flagship radio station has only one more guaranteed season.
“Like any contract, there are periods where you do a business analysis,” WGN Radio president Jimmy de Castro told the Tribune. “Both the Cubs and WGN are looking at it. We love our partnership, and we hope it continues forever. The contract calls for us to take a look at it, and we’re going to do that.”
All that uncertainty will impact the search to replace radio analyst Keith Moreland, who made a surprising decision to step down and return home to Texas. It was a factor last year when TV analyst Bob Brenly got an offer from the Arizona Diamondbacks and Fox Sports he couldn’t refuse. At that point, the Cubs job came with only two guaranteed years.
Big names like Kerry Wood and Rick Sutcliffe are not in play, according to sources familiar with the situation. Mr. Ex-Cub, Mark DeRosa, retired this month and quickly joined the MLB Network as a studio analyst.
Cubs management likes Doug Glanville, who has been linked to multiple jobs in Chicago across the past few years. He’s a fan favorite on Twitter, a University of Pennsylvania graduate and a published author with a New York Times platform. He’s becoming the broadcasting equivalent of New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi.
But a source close to Glanville said he still has two more years left on his ESPN deal and will not be a candidate for this job.
Sources connected to Ryan Theriot seemed surprised to find out his name was floated in an online report, saying he’s kept a low profile in retirement after winning World Series rings with the Giants and St. Louis Cardinals.
The Daily Herald identified Ron Coomer as a candidate. The Lockport High School graduate and one-time Cub does TV work with the Minnesota Twins on Fox Sports North and has a radio presence in the Twin Cities.
Dave Otto, an ex-Cub and Elk Grove High School graduate, has done extensive fill-in work on Cubs broadcasts over the years. There’s also a level of familiarity with Todd Hollandsworth, the Comcast SportsNet Chicago analyst and MLB Network Radio personality.
Coomer and Hollandsworth are viewed as strong contenders and sources are convinced an ex-player will get the WGN job.
There are two other names to file away for the future as the Cubs build their multimedia platforms: Andy Masur spent eight seasons on WGN with play-by-play man Pat Hughes and the late Ron Santo before taking a job with the San Diego Padres broadcasting team. Mick Gillispie, the Double-A Tennessee announcer, has worked alongside TV play-by-play man Len Kasper in spring training for broadcasts on the team’s website.
The Cubs can’t start their own cable network until 2020. They have to hope the bubble doesn’t burst. They could do a shorter-term bridge deal with WGN or expand the partnership with Comcast/NBC. The industry buzz is that Fox — with its deep pockets, aggressive corporate attitude and new 24-hour national sports network — could be a major player.
Against this backdrop, the biggest stories surrounding this team are not the Jeff Samardzija trade rumors or Starlin Castro’s hitting approach or Rick Renteria’s personality. It’s ward politics, City Hall influence and the art of the media deals.
These are pillars of the business/baseball rebuilding plans. Once the $500 million Wrigleyville renovation project finally gets off the ground, the Cubs might start to resemble a big-market team again.