David Adam

Why are certain Cubs games blacked out?

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Aug. 1, 2016 9:45 am Updated: Aug. 5, 2016 10:53 am

Why did Comcast in Quincy black out ESPN's broadcast of (the July 18) Mets-Cubs game when neither of the two Comcast Sports Chicago stations (63 and 102) carried the game?

Comcast doesn't black out games. Major League Baseball does.

The simple rule when it comes to blackout rules is that if a game is shown on a national network and on a local network, the game is blacked out on the national network. MLB's blackout rules also state that "home television territory blackout restrictions apply regardless of whether a club is home or away and regardless of whether or not a game is televised in a club's home television territory." Quincy is in the Cubs' home television territory.

The July 18 game was broadcast by WPWR (Channel 50, a MyNetwork channel in Chicago), which is not available in Quincy.

The July 19 game that was broadcast by Comcast Sports Net, a regional sports network, was available for Comcast viewers in Quincy on ESPN as well.

The July 20 game was broadcast by WLS (Channel 7, an ABC station in Chicago), which is not available in Quincy. However, it was available on ESPN for Comcast viewers in Quincy.

Attempts to find someone who could clarify the blackout rule were unsuccessful.

Local Cubs fans who became accustomed to watching all of their favorite team's games on WGN have found it more difficult to watch them the last two years.

The Cubs have games broadcast on three local networks. (By comparison, the St. Louis Cardinals will have at least 147 games broadcast on Fox Sports Midwest and 10 more on ESPN or Fox Sports 1.)

Twenty-five games are being telecast by WLS, which became a part of the Cubs' TV package in 2015. Comcast SportsNet Chicago is televising up to 86 games, and WGN (Channel 9, a CW network in Chicago) and WPWR will carry the remaining games.

Cubs games were on WGN from 1948 to 2014, but games are no longer broadcast on WGN America, which is offered on Comcast's cable lineup in Quincy and on the two major satellite lineups -- Channel 239 on the Dish Network and Channel 307 on DirecTV. WGN America converted from a superstation to a cable network, ending years of local Chicago news and sports being shown to viewers nationwide.

Games televised by WGN-Channel 9 and WLS-Channel 7 for Chicago viewers can be seen on several TV stations in Indiana, Illinois and Iowa. Champaign, Peoria, Rockford, the Quad Cities, Springfield and Bloomington offer most, if not all, games on shown on WGN and ABC on local TV affiliates.

WGEM-CW (Channel 10.2) is scheduled to air three Cubs games not offered by Comcast Sports Net. Carlos Fernandez, vice president and general manager, said WGEM took on a limited schedule focused on games of local interest.

Because of contractual agreements with CW and FOX, the amount of programming that WGEM can preempt each year is limited. Many of the statewide TV stations carrying Cubs games are MyNetwork or Antenna TV affiliates, which have much more flexibility when it comes preempting network programming for games.

Major League Baseball's blackout rules were adjusted earlier this year after the league reached an agreement in a class action lawsuit. The biggest changes were a reduction in price for the full package of MLB.TV, its online streaming subscription service, to $110, and the creation of new single-team packages that cost $84.99.

The Cubs have an ownership stake in Comcast SportsNet Chicago, which owns exclusive cable rights through the 2019 season. CSN Chicago reported in November that Theo Epstein, president of baseball operations for the Cubs, thought a Cubs network in 2020 "would be a very real option."