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Chicago Cubs Are “Exploring” DTC Streaming Service, Potentially Partnering with Sinclair

Jeff Kotuby

Are the Chicago Cubs about to join in on the DTC broadcasting trend?

According to a report by the Chicago Tribune, the Cubs and Sinclair Broadcasting Group, the team’s current regional sports network (RSN) broadcasting partner, are in talks to launch a Cubs-themed DTC streaming service, allowing Cubs fans to watch their team without a cable or satellite subscription in 2023.

Carne Kenney, president of business operations for the Cubs, spoke with the Chicago Tribune about potentially launching the service, but said that there were hurdles to leap before it could become a reality — namely Major League Baseball itself.

“The ability to just freeform, bring wall-to-wall Cubs coverage to our fans with Marquee Sports Network. that was always the dream,” Kenney said. “The question then is: how do you go deeper? There’s a bunch of different vertical businesses that you can build alongside just the video production. We want to make sure it’s as robust as it can be.”

Unfortunately for the Cubs, and to a greater extent Sinclair, there’s the pesky matter of broadcasting rights that are interfering with their dreams. The Cubs only need to worry about getting one team’s rights — their own — but Sinclair has had a more challenging time trying to realize their own DTC streaming service due to the sheer number of rights that they need to procure before launching it. Sinclair CEO Chris Ripley said the app would “soft launch” in Q2 2022 to coincide with the baseball season, but there’s been nary a peep from Sinclair about the app as baseball’s delayed Opening Day inches closer.

Later this year, the Bally Sports App will have a widespread launch focusing on the significantly larger number of team broadcasting rights that Sinclair owns across the NBA and NHL; that launch will presumably be timed to the opening of the basketball and hockey seasons in the fall. Currently, Sinclair owns the broadcasting rights to 16 NBA teams and 12 NHL teams.

It’s odd that Sinclair is choosing to showcase baseball above basketball and hockey, especially considering that A) they only have the rights to five MLB teams and B) the demographics involved with baseball versus basketball/hockey would seem to indicate the latter group is more likely to sign up for a streaming service. Millennials and Gen Z viewers prefer to watch their sports via streaming services on their mobile devices and at their discretion, rather than sitting and watching full games on a traditional TV setup.

Regardless, it’ll be interesting to see how the situation with the Cubs plays out and if it sets a precedent for Sinclair and their Bally Sports DTC service moving forward. Could they just dump the whole idea of their one-stop-shop DTC app and launch one per team? It’s unlikely, but if the Cubs move proves to be successful, Sinclair might just have to think about it.

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