White Sox, Bulls, Blackhawks discuss their own TV network as deal with NBC Sports Chicago concludes

In 2015, the Cubs revealed that they would be launching their own regional sports network by 2020, the season following the expiration of their broadcast deals. But it wasn’t until 2018 that news of the network’s name and partner was released. That’s when it became real to the fans.

In October 2024, NBC Sports Chicago’s contract with the Blackhawks, Bulls and White Sox will expire. As for the weather, we’re on the same playing field as when Marquee Sports Network and Sinclair Broadcast Group began discussing a partnership. So what’s on the agenda for NBCSCH and its three teams?

The sports broadcasting landscape is still fluid and there are a few ways this could go. Teams may renew with NBC Sports Regional Networks. NBCUniversal could quit the RSN game entirely, which it would be happy to do if it could find a buyer.

Or Hawks, Bulls and Sox could start their own network, which insiders say is up for debate.

Does this make sense. Bulls and Sox president Jerry Reinsdorf could form a year-round RSN on his own, just like he does YES in New York with the Yankees and the Nets. And it could be argued that it would make sense for the Hawks to join the Cubs and give Marquee a winter tenant, eliminating conflicts with the Bulls games.

But don’t expect Hawks president Rocky Wirtz to give up his family’s longtime partnership with the Reinsdorfs. They have been together since SportsVision in the 1980s and are equal owners of the United Center. That bond is strong. Furthermore, neither of them would like to help the Cubs, who have left Reinsdorf and Wirtz to chase their own golden goose.

NBC’s waning interest in RSNs is evident from its limited support for affiliates. NBCSCH repurposed a late night talk show hosted by David Kaplan and his postgame show Bears was a hit. But outside of that, the channel’s only value is in game coverage.

Marquee has developed original programming, whether you like it or not, to help fill her schedule. And he added live events with Sky and Cubs minor league games. Imagine the programming possibilities for a Hawks-Bulls-Sox network with the support of a broadcast partner.

There is the potential for a return to the heyday of NBCSCH’s predecessor, Comcast SportsNet, which covered all the teams in town on “SportsNet Central” night. Only WGN broadcasts such a show in Chicago and has no teams. New York’s SNY only has the Mets among the city’s pro teams, and also has a night show.

In addition to a linear network, the teams also plan to explore streaming. Currently, their games can be streamed via an authenticated cable or satellite subscription, or a live TV streaming service that carries them. But some teams’ goal is to remove the middleman and create an in-market direct-to-consumer service.

This month, Boston’s NESN became the first RSN in the country to launch such a platform. NESN 360 is a digital subscription service that offers Bruins and Red Sox games without the need for a cable, satellite or streamer. Additionally, MLB is part of the partnership, giving credit to the possibility of a similar development here.

The Cubs have already said they want to launch their own service. Bally Sports is expected to launch a DTC service for its 19 RSNs this year, starting this month with five MLB teams (Brewers, Marlins, Rays, Royals and Tigers). And NBC has been exploring the streaming space for its RSNs.

Considering the Sox entered the digital realm in 2009 with the launch of the media venture Silver Chalice, which shares ownership of the Stadium sports network with Sinclair, it’s surprising that the team hasn’t already taken the plunge. The stadium didn’t have the success Reinsdorf hoped for, but he and the team gained hands-on experience in space. Now they have to put it to use.

The sports media landscape is still evolving. Chicago fans may end up watching matches on two team-owned networks and streaming services. With NBCSCH’s contract expiring in two years, we think we know more about what’s coming before then.

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