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MESA, ARIZ. — Chicago Cubs fans without cable or satellite TV might soon have a new avenue to watch games.
The Cubs are exploring a direct-to-consumer streaming option with a goal to make it available for the 2023 season, president of business operations Crane Kenney told the Tribune in a wide-ranging conversation.Advertisement
There are notable hurdles, however, to launching a direct-to-consumers streaming venture — namely Major League Baseball, distributors, pricing and technology.
“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 Thursday. “The question then is: how do you go deeper?”Advertisement
Many major-league franchises view paid streaming services as the next step in the relationship between team and fans who have cut the cord. The product’s price and what the streaming service entails would involve working with the cable service to determine those parameters.[Most read in Sports] Chicago Bears nix deal with Larry Ogunjobi — their top offseason acquisition — because of a failed physical »
Ensuring the Marquee app is technologically strong enough to handle the service is important. Kenney envisions a DTC programming model creating an opportunity for a two-way experience. Cubs fans potentially could buy tickets or purchase merchandise before a new release sells out through the streaming service.
“There’s a bunch of different vertical businesses that you can build alongside just the video production,” Kenney said. “We want to make sure it’s as robust as it can be.”
MLB has long presented a challenge in creating a streaming option.
MLB TV’s blackout restrictions currently impede teams in areas where the cable service does not carry their respective regional sports network’s games. So for baseball fans in Des Moines, Iowa, the site of the Cubs’ Triple-A affiliate, they are prevented from watching Cubs, White Sox, St. Louis Cardinals, Minnesota Twins, Kansas City Royals and Milwaukee Brewers games on MLB TV. In-market fans are blacked out on the league’s streaming service, too.
“One of the great solutions should be solving the blackouts,” Kenney said.[Most read in Sports] John Clayton, beloved NFL insider at ESPN, dies at 67 »
A direct-to-consumer streaming setup with Sinclair Broadcasting could fix that problem for many Cubs fans.
The Cubs will have a sponsorship patch on their jerseys starting in 2023 as part of the new collective bargaining agreement.
Kenney said the Cubs already have been engaged with a number of partners for the sponsorship, which will be a patch affixed to the sleeve.
“Obviously, that’s hallowed ground — we’re talking about the pinstripes,” Kenney said. “So we’ll be very, very careful with the right partner presented in the right way on our jerseys.”
Kenney said they have declined past sponsor partnership opportunities, as well as certain music acts and other activities, because the Cubs didn’t believe they fit the “Friendly Confines.”[Most read in Sports] Illinois survives Chattanooga’s upset bid, rallying late for a 54-53 win in the 1st round of the NCAA Tournament »
“The same thing will be true with the jersey,” he said.
After getting through the city ordnance in December, the new DraftKings Sportsbook is under construction at Wrigley Field.
The three-story building will be open year-round and feature an open-air rooftop deck. Fans attending a game will not be able to access Wrigley from the sportsbook and must exit to go through a gate. MLB does not permit direct ballpark entry via a sportsbook.
The Cubs are targeting opening day 2023 to begin operations, but labor and worldwide supply chain issues might delay the timeline.
“No one’s more protective of Wrigley Field than we are,” Kenney said. “You know how strongly we feel about it. It’s one of the jewel boxes of baseball, and so the sportsbook will be consistent with the things we’ve done so far.”[Most read in Sports] Column: Former Chicago Bear Roberto Garza feels Larry Ogunjobi’s pain of failing a physical. ‘It stings. It hurts.’ »
The Cubs envision the sportsbook becoming a go-to entertainment spot in Wrigleyville.
“We’re not worried about the future of sports betting,” Kenney said. “I think it’s just another feature for those who want to engage. Some people don’t want to engage in sports betting, that’s fine. I think the venue, even if you’re not a sports bettor, will be an incredible spot.”
The Cubs know some fans aren’t on board with the DraftKings Sportsbook. It reminds Kenney of the initial hand-wringing over whether the big videoboards erected in 2015 would fit well with the historic ballpark and a nervousness around the introduction of Clark the Cub in 2014 and how the mascot might be used.
“Change is not always welcome at Wrigley Field, but that corner has been really busy for my whole life with the team going back to ’94,” Kenney said. “This is taking one more step to a permanent structure where I think we should grade pretty well on being really protective of the character of Wrigley Field. It doesn’t mean we won’t change things.”
The Cubs are not alone in their sportsbook endeavors.[Most read in Sports] Buffalo Bills OL Ryan Bates, a restricted free agent, is expected to visit the Chicago Bears next week »
In January, the Washington Nationals became the first MLB team to open a sportsbook attached to the ballpark. Washington partnered with BetMGM for the sportsbook, located outside Nationals Park’s center-field gate. The Athletic reported in August of the New York Yankees’ interest in a sportsbook. The Boston Red Sox began a partnership with DraftKings in 2021, and the two sides could partner on a sportsbook at Fenway Park pending local betting laws and regulations. DraftKings Sportsbook also has locations near MLB stadiums in Atlanta, Detroit, St. Louis and Arlington, Texas.
The Wrigley sportsbook space previously was the location of the Captain Morgan Club (2009-18) and then DraftKings Fantasy Sports Zone to a seasonal-tent-turned-permanent tent setup with fixtures inside.
Sheffield Avenue will remain open during the construction. The impacted area will run from the right field Wintrust gate west toward the main gate.
The Billy Williams and Ron Santo statues were removed from the corner of Addison Street and Sheffield Avenue to make way for the sportsbook on Jan. 31 and are undergoing refurbishment.
They won’t be gone for much longer.[Most read in Sports] Lonzo Ball — 7 weeks after undergoing knee surgery — is at a standstill for a return to the Chicago Bulls »
The Cubs plan to make Gallagher Way the site for all current and future player statues. When the Cubs unveil Hall of Fame pitcher Fergie Jenkins’ statue in May, the statues of Ernie Banks, Santo and Williams will also be moved to Gallagher Way. The Harry Caray statue will remain behind the center field bleachers.
“(Gallagher Way) has become what we always hoped for, which was the park in the city, and in some ways, it’s Wrigleyville’s home base,” Kenney said. “We thought, ‘How do we grow that from a Cubs perspective from the history of our team?’ So putting them all in one place, which is the most popular part of our outdoor area, seemed to make sense.”
Anyone can access Gallagher Way until three hours before first pitch, at which point a same-day game ticket is required to enter the space until one hour after the game, per a city ordnance.
Some pandemic-related ballpark changes from 2021 are sticking around.Advertisement
The Cubs again are utilizing mobile ordering and the Evolv touchless security screening at gate entrances. They also will be testing a new grab-and-go technology for concession stands, hoping to shorten wait times. They are piloting the feature at the main concession stand by the Wrigley Field marquee gate.Advertisement
“Just like you do at grocery stores, you’ll bring your five items, you’ll put them on a tray, it will scan immediately and tell you what it is you just purchased,” Kenney explained. “You put your credit card in and you walk away. You’ll never see a concession worker. ... We’re trying to reduce wait times in every place that you bottleneck at Wrigley Field.”
The Cubs will continue to follow city, state and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for fan COVID-19 protocols.Advertisement