Marquee Sports Network has reportedly agreed to a deal with Hulu, some much-needed good news for the fledgling network. Offering a streaming option for fans that have cut the cord entirely or remain hamstrung by Comcast Xfinity is a big step, indeed, and with chatter that more streaming option deals (YouTube TV) could be on the horizon, Marquee finally has some good news to promote with just under a week before the network launches.
That good news comes with a significant number of caveats, however. The deal with Hulu, while on its face a big step, will only be available to subscribers of Hulu + Live TV — which requires a $54.99 monthly payment. If that sounds expensive, it’s because it is, and the Cubs asking fans to change from a cable subscription to Hulu solely to get Cubs games is a misstep — but that’s to be expected with how the organization has handled Marquee generally.
We also have no word yet for fans that are stuck with Xfinity, and it’s not at all surprising that the Cubs’ response to such questions remains both tone-deaf and opaque:
Crane Kenney’s words are nothing more than posturing, an attempt to put the squeeze on Comcast when, in reality, it’s the Cubs that are largely responsible for fumbling the carriage deal process. When your shiny, new sports network makes such a fuss over airing 28 spring training games, countless, team-exclusive content, and 145 regular-season games while over 50 percent of the Chicago cable market will be blacked out, it takes a special kind of arrogance to act so piously. Unsurprisingly, that’s exactly what Kenney is doing.
Hulu Solves Very Little for Marquee
The Cubs are beholden to MLB territories for airing live games, and even with streaming rights now being controlled by teams, blackout restrictions will still be upheld via streaming platforms. This not only means that MLB.TV will maintain blackout restrictions in local markets, it also means that unless you reside within the Cubs TV territory Marquee will not be available to you via a cable subscription.
This poses numerous problems. Fans, particularly those within the team’s market, shouldn’t be forced to 1) change their cable subscription when Comcast has a de facto monopoly or 2) sign up for an expensive service like Hulu+ to watch Marquee.
While the Cubs ownership can’t be blamed for the blackout restrictions associated with MLB.TV, and while MLB would be wise to remove blackout restrictions, Marquee has been an over four-year process. Not foreseeing these problems well in advance — or worse, understanding such problems would arise but caring about profit over unfettered fan access — is unacceptable, and fans have a right to be outraged.
For folks like me, who neither have cable nor have any desire to pay $54.99 for a service when I literally only want access to Marquee, the options are essentially nil. It stands to reason Marquee could offer its own app for a reasonable monthly fee, akin to basic Hulu, Netflix, or Disney+ prices. This would create further accessibility at an affordable rate — which would skyrocket the number of subscriptions for the brand new network.
Instead, we have Tom Ricketts competing with Kenney over who can make the more insensitive comment as Cubs fans fear limited-to-no-access to games:
This Could Ruin the Fanbase as we Know it
Like many die-hard Cubs fans, I grew up with unlimited access to games on WGN — even as I was raised in West Michigan. The weight of WGN providing nationwide coverage of Cubs games maintains an incalculable impact. Cub fans are everywhere in this country, with WGN, Harry Caray, and the third-largest market in the US to boot all significant reasons why.
With the advent of Regional Sports Networks, the exclusivity rights WGN held with Cubs games was bound to end. It’s unsurprising, too, that this ownership group jumped at the opportunity to depart the RSN partnership model at first opportunity to create their own network. It truly is all about the money.
But when you own your own sports network and fail to offer convenient, affordable methods with which fans can access the team, you are literally shooting yourself in the foot. Cubs ticket prices are the highest in baseball, even as a devoted fanbase remains (fourth in MLB in attendance last season).
With ticket prices already inaccessible for so many fans, removing options to easily access games in the comfort of one’s own home is brazenly callous, revealing further how much the Ricketts have taken for granted the impossibly devoted fanbase they inherited upon purchasing the Cubs.
It’s Spring Training. We should be talking about the joys of baseball returning, the impossible feeling of optimism that’s renewed this time of year, regardless of circumstance. Instead, we’re talking about not being able to watch our team.
It’s a damn shame.