The Chicago Cubs have become the latest Major League Baseball franchise to move toward direct-to-consumer streaming by launching a subscription offering on its Marquee Sports Network (MSN), its regional sports network (RSN) joint venture with Sinclair Broadcast Group, the largest television station owner in the US.
The local subscription offering, available to residents in the Chicago area, will cover the team’s more than 200 live games, studio programming, documentaries, and other content for $19.99 per month. The new app is available on iOS, Android, Roku, Fire TV, and Apple TV, as well as on Safari and Chrome internet browsers.
Fans already subscribed to MSN via a cable, satellite, telco, or virtual multichannel video programming distributor will be able to stream MSN content at no added cost.
Mike McCarthy, MSN general manager, said: “We’re thrilled to launch our new direct-to-consumer subscription option, providing all in-market Cubs fans with access to Marquee Sports Network, including live Cubs games.
“The new Marquee Sports Network App will also provide an improved 1080p streaming experience for all Marquee Sports Network subscribers. We look forward to continuing to bring Cubs baseball to the passionate Cubs fans across the region.”
MSN becomes the latest MLB team-owned RSN to launch a streaming service as more customers shy away from cable television in favor of streaming. The New York Yankees’ YES Network and Boston Red Sox’s NESN have both started offering streaming packages.
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The new offering also comes after MLB took over production for the Arizona Diamondbacks and San Diego Padres after they had their contracts terminated by Diamond Sports Group (SDG), the Sinclair subsidiary currently going through bankruptcy proceedings.
MLB’s takeover has seen a temporary structure offering games for a local streaming fee of $19.99 per month for each team.
The spate of new streaming offerings comes at a crossroads for US local television deals going forward. RSNs have thus far been the dominant way US teams negotiate local television deals to complement their league’s national contracts, with the channels showing a combination of live professional, collegiate, and high school sporting events across a certain market.
However, the RSN model is facing its biggest threat with consumer habits changing to favor streaming services that offer more flexible and affordable contracts with greater freedom. Cable television, meanwhile, is inflexible, with viewers unable to pick and choose which services they want to pay for, leading many to ‘cut the cord.'
The issue was exacerbated by DSG filing for bankruptcy in March due to significant losses caused by the initial $10.6 billion it paid to purchase rights for 21 US teams from Fox in 2019. DSG then gained the rights for its RSNs to broadcast the games of 42 teams across ice hockey’s NHL, basketball’s NBA, and the MLB.
Since then, DSG has repeatedly stated it needs additional streaming rights – it only has such rights to five of its MLB properties – to prop up its BallySports+ app and generate more revenue. However, MLB has declined to offer any more rights.
Amid the bankruptcy proceedings, teams who are not paid their rights fees are free to break their contracts and search for other partners.