Cubs TV network signs last-minute deal with Comcast to air games

CHICAGO -- With no time to spare, the Chicago Cubs' new television network, called Marquee, has a last-minute agreement with Chicagoland's largest cable provider, Comcast, to air their games. The deal allows fans in the Chicago market to watch the Cubs as soon as Friday night when the team hosts the Milwaukee Brewers in its season opener.

"It was a complicated negotiation," said Crane Kenney, president of business operations for the Cubs. "Usually there needs to be a catalyst...I said in January, it was likely either going to be the beginning of spring training or the beginning of the regular season as the catalyst to get something done."

Some carriers preferred an early deal with Marquee, being able to offer it to potential subscribers. Others attempted to hold out for better rates. Comcast also owns a regional sports network, NBCSportsChicago, which previously aired Cubs games and which currently airs the Chicago White Sox, Blackhawks and Bulls. The Cubs split away from that network after last season, forming their own, which already has aired spring training games back in March as well as summer camp scrimmages and exhibition contests. But Comcast subscribers weren't able to watch them.

"I know it's been painful for our Xfinity [Comcast] fans to suffer through the long delay but there was a need for a catalyst," Kenney reiterated. "It turns out it was opening day. And it turns out opening day was in July, not March."

The deal, pushed hard by the Cubs, allows them to avoid messy situations that have occurred in other cities. For the past seven years, until this season, Los Angeles Dodgers games weren't seen by about half of their market while the Denver Nuggets and Avalanche went unseen to Comcast subscribers in Denver as well. The Cubs made sure to avoid the same fate, despite missing a few spring games.

"This may have been in the top three for my hate mail," Kenney joked. "We're just happy we're here."

The realization of their own network is one of the last pieces of a decades-long makeover for the organization that has renovated Wrigley Field, built new facilities at spring training and the Dominican Republic and won a World Series. Every game outside of national broadcasts on ESPN and FOX Sports, will air on Marquee.

"This is one of the last boxes to check," Kenney said.

Terms of the agreement between Comcast and Marquee were not disclosed.