Despite concern over the long-term health of the pay-TV ecosystem and the specter of the high-profile failure of Dodgers channel TWC SportsNet LA, the Chicago Cubs say they remain "focused 100 percent" on launching their own regional sports network by 2020.
Speaking at the team's winter convention in Chicago, Cubs operations chief Crane Kenney said any deal that his team carves out with a pay-TV operator will be fundamentally different from the $8.35 billion deal the Los Angeles Dodgers made with Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC) back in 2013.
"Remember, there is no sell the rights to someone else and they take all the risk," Kenney said, according to CSN Chicago, which was among the media outlets at the convention. "The world doesn't work that way, with one exception: That's what happened in L.A., where now Time Warner can't clear the games in half the homes. And obviously it's a huge loss for them."
After paying the Dodgers billions to license their exclusive RSN rights, TWC has been unable to gain carriage for a new channel featuring the Dodgers, TWC SportsNet LA, on any other relevant Southern California operator. This has resulted in only about 40 percent of the Southern California pay-TV audience being able to see the team the last few years.
"The Dodgers are a one-off world," Kenney said.
As for the broader pay-TV environment, he said every Major League Baseball team with an RSN deal must bear the risk of cord-cutting and cord-shaving.
"Can I predict exactly what 2019's going to look like?" Kenney said. "No, I can't. (But) we love the trajectory of sports rights. So if you look at any of the recent deals that were done, they're still going up. We love that trajectory. We watch with a very wary eye what's going on in the cable universe, though. You'd have to be a fool not to pay attention."
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