It’s going to be a different baseball season at NBC Sports Chicago.
The regional sports network that started as a joint venture among Comcast, the White Sox, Bulls, Blackhawks and Cubs will not be airing Cubs games for the first time since 2003.
With the Cubs opting to launch their own network, NBC Sports Chicago is doubling down on the up-and-coming Sox, whose local games, like those of the Cubs, will no longer be on broadcast.
“We’ve got all the White Sox games for the most part,” Kevin Cross, general manager of NBC Sports Chicago, said. “This will be fun.”
Last year, televised 80 Cubs games that averaged a 4.1 rating, down 7% from the prior season. It showed 105 White Sox games.
Those averaged a 1 rating, up 25%. This year, the network will carry 161 of 162 regular season Sox games.
This season, there are high expectations for the White Sox. While the team was rebuilding, was showing minor league games to familiarize fans with prospects who would be coming up to the South Side.
When the last baseball season ended, rebranded itself as the home of Chicago Sports. That means the network will still cover that team on the north side of town.
“The fan base in this market wants that and we still have to provide it,” Cross said.
Outside of baseball season, Cross figures will have a real advantage over Marquee Sports Network, the Cubs’ outlet. When winter sets in, will be carrying Bulls basketball and Blackhawks hockey.
“There won’t be a single week of the year where we don’t have live events and pro events,” he said. “That’s a great thing for us and I love where we’re positioned.”
The addition of more live White Sox games has helped NBCSC maintain affiliate fees even with the Cubs’ departure. And while some sponsors have moved to Marquee with the Cubs, “we’re off to a really good start from an advertising standpoint,” Cross said. “The community is buying into it. They know that the Sox have something going on and they want to get in early on.”
He added, “Our biggest selling point is that we’re a year-round network.”
According to Kagan analyst Adam Gajo, is expected to generate $207 million in revenue, with $168.7 million coming from subscriber fees ($4.29 per subscriber per month) and $35.6 million from advertising. It will earn $8.8 million in cash flow, according to Kagan.
To win the competition with Marquee, Cross believes his network needs to constantly innovate. This season the network will boast new, state-of-the-art studios, built by the folks who designed the studios NBC uses for the Olympics.
“It’s going to be a studio that allows us to create content in entirely different ways. And that’s what the fans want,” he said.
Beyond television, Cross said he wants to be strong on digital with written content, video-on-demand and fans engaged on social media. “We’ve got to be there for fans 24/7, he said.
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