Marquee Sports Network, the new channel being launched Feb. 22 by the Chicago Cubs and Sinclair Broadcast Group, took a big step by making a carriage deal to be streamed as part of the Hulu+ Live TV lineup.
It is Marquee’s first over-the-top deal with a virtual MVPD (multichannel video programming distributor), which is important because it means Cubs fans can watch games if they cut the cord.
The dominant cable operator in Chicago is Comcast, which has not yet made a deal with Marquee. Comcast also is a part owner of NBC Sports Chicago, which carried Cubs games on cable last year and continues to carry the White Sox, Bulls and Blackhawks.
After more than 70 years of getting games for free over-the-air on WGN-TV, Cubs fans have been concerned about their ability to watch Cubs games on the new network, which will carry all local Cubs telecasts, if it does not reach a deal with Comcast and other carriers.
The new deal might put pressure on Comcast, if it wants to avoid having its subscribers cut the cord and stream the games via Hulu+ Live TV, which costs $54.99 for its basic service.
Hulu has been promoting live sports on Hulu+ Live TV with commercials featuring star athletes, including one with New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady that aired during the Super Bowl.
Marquee Sports Network has already made deals with a number of traditional pay-TV providers including DirecTV, Charter Communications, Mediacom, Frontier Communications and RCN.
Financial terms of the new Hulu deal were not disclosed.
Last year, Sinclair bought the 21 former Fox regional sports networks for $10.6 billion from The Walt Disney Co., which owns Hulu. Disney acquired the RSNs — plus a 30% stake in Hulu — when it bought 21st Century Fox last year. Regulators forced Disney ‚ which also runs ESPN — to sell the RSNs on antitrust grounds.
Marquee officials have expressed confidence they will be able to reach a deal with Comcast. Sinclair's carriage deal with Comcast is up later this year, so Marquee could be a part of a larger negotiation.
Marquee Sports Network recently launched a promotion campaign and said it has signed up a number of sponsors.
The network has also announced that its on-air talent will including a return of Len Kasper and Jim DeShaies in the both a number of former Cubs, including Ryan Dempster, Rick Sutcliffe, Mark DeRosa, Carlos Pena, Jason Hammel, Doug Glanville, Dan Plesac, Mark Grace and ex-manager Lou Piniella.
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