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CSN Chicago Has Fingers Crossed After Big Season

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Comcast SportsNet in Chicago isn’t making plans yet to cover a Cubs World Series victory parade.

With a team that’s been jinxed for 108 years by a goat, a black cat and pop-fly-poaching fan Steve Bartman, it’s not surprising Windy City residents are a bit superstitious.

Phil Bedella, VP and general manager at CSN, says the team and the city haven’t done any planning either. “Because of the number of years that it’s been since we’ve had a World Series champion on the North Side of town, I think folks are very cautious.”

Superstition notwithstanding, network staffers have been excited by the Cubs’ record-setting season. “If the Cubs score a run, or someone makes a great play, you can feel it,” Bedella said. “The people in the newsroom are watching and paying attention. You get into this business in part because you’re a big sports fan, and this kind of excitement, it’s infectious.”

It’s also good for business. After a few years in which the team lost as it traded big leaguers for draft choices and prospects, young stars have blossom, turning the Cubs into a compelling attraction. Ratings have jumped from a 1.5 average in 2014, to a 3.32 last year to a 4.25 so far this year. The Cubs drew a record 11 rating last month the night they clinched the National League Central Division championship.

Ad rates are up 50% to 75% from last year, he adds. And when one team is hot, clients buy baseball packages that include not only spots on Cubs games, but on White Sox games as well to reach both sides of town.

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Comcast SportsNet won’t air any postseason games—they will air on national networks—but it will televise pre-and postgame shows for as long as the Cubs keep playing. Commercials are sold out for the postseason, “but there’s still features and enhancements that we’re selling now,” Bedella says. He says that advertisers on the network will be about 70% local during the postseason.

The Cubs’ success has raised the possibility of the team starting its own TV network when its current deal expires in 2019 with CSN, which also carries the NHL Blackhawks and the NBA Bulls.

“Having the power of all four of these teams together really makes an amazing channel,” Bedella says. “I’m really hopeful all parties will get to a deal soon and we’ll be able to announce some sort of extension of the business.”