Marquee may have tough time renewal Comcast deal in Chicago market

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Marquee Sports Network, the RSN that’s home to the Chicago Cubs, appears to be facing an uphill battle in its efforts to get Comcast to renew its carriage agreement, which could send it to black in around half of the homes it reaches.

Marquee, which is owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group and the Cubs, launched in 2020 and appeared to have a tough time working out a deal with Comcast, with the deal signed much later than its others.

Now, as the deal prepares to sunset, Marquee executives are acknowledging it may be a tough sell to get Comcast to renew. Comcast accounts for roughly half of the network’s current distribution footprint, with much of the Chicago metro area viewing via that source. Other providers with deals include Hulu, DirecTV and WOW.

Marquee’s former co-parent, Diamond Sports Group, is already facing challenges getting Comcast to renew carriage on the soon-to-be-rebranded Bally Sports networks. 

The negotiations also come at a time when the city’s Hawks, Bulls and Sox franchises are preparing to launch their own, combined, RSN called Chicago Sports Network. Comcast, which owns NBCUniversal, is also prepping to shut down NBC Sports Chicago, which will lose the rights to those teams, and has reportedly cooled on its RSN businesses, which could drive an overall reluctance to offer Marquee or the Bally channels.

It’s not clear how talks between CHSN and Comcast might be going ahead of the network’s fall 2024 launch. 

Should Comcast and its Xfinity brand be unable to reach a deal with Marquee, it could make select games with one of the nation’s favorite hometown teams tricky to watch in its home market.  Fans would have the option to subscribe to Marquee’s standalone streamer, currently priced at $19.99 a month, but it’s not clear how many people would sign up and if that would be enough to generate the financials the network needs to stay afloat.

It would appear that Marquee needs Comcast more than the other way around, so Comcast could end up digging in its heels until the network caves to whatever pricing demands it’s asking. That, however, could be unlikely to happen based on some of what Marquee execs have said on local radio, seemingly issuing a public warning about its ability to reach a deal with Xfinity, though it’s also possible that was a strategic move to direct viewer pressure to Comcast.

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It was never clear what drove the two to a deal back in 2020, though seems as though it wasn’t the smoothest of processes after the two parties inked the deal just in time for opening day.

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