Sinclair, Comcast strike deal that includes Marquee Sports Network carriage

Comcast Corp. and the Sinclair Broadcast Group have reached a multi-year carriage renewal that will allow for the long-awaited distribution of the Marquee Sports Network on the largest carrier in the Chicago, Illinois area.

Marquee, a newly developed regional sports network between Sinclair and Major League Baseball’s Chicago Cubs, had previously gained carriage on other major carriers including ones controlled by AT&T that are the second-largest distributor in the Cubs’ broadcast territory. But until the very day the Cubs on July 24 begin their amended 2020 schedule amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, distribution on Comcast systems had eluded the channel.

Comcast has more than 1m subscribers in the Chicago area, representing half of the market share for the Cubs’ television market. The deal avoids the potential for a nasty business dispute leaving large segments of the Cubs’ fan base unable to see the team’s game, similar to what happened between the Los Angeles Dodgers and AT&T for more than six years until a deal was finally struck earlier this year.

“By including Marquee in the broader Sinclair agreement, we’re now able to give our customers access to Cubs baseball in time for the start of the season,” said John Crowley, senior vice president for Comcast Cable’s greater Chicago region.

Financial terms were not disclosed, but the deal will most likely result in monthly fee increases for all Comcast subscribers in the Chicago area. Several other carriers among the more than 40 entities that have agreed to carry Marquee Sports Network, including Mediacom, have already boosted rates by about $2 per month for customers with packages including the RSN.

Dish Network, the third-largest distributor in the Chicago area, is the largest remaining holdout not carrying Marquee Sports Network. The company is well known in the industry for taking a hard line against rising sports content costs, and last month took the NFL Network and NFL RedZone off both the satellite television service and its over-the-top offering SlingTV.

The development of the Marquee Sports Network is a key pillar in the ever-expanding sports, entertainment and development empire of the Ricketts family that includes the Cubs. The family’s sports-related portfolio also includes a large series of real estate interests in the area surrounding Wrigley Field, as well as the Marquee 360 sales and marketing agency.

The broader Comcast-Sinclair agreement includes retransmission of 78 Sinclair television stations in 51 major markets, as well continued distribution fo the Tennis Channel, 18 of Sinclair’s Fox-branded RSNs, and the YES Network for Comcast subscribers.

“Sports are an important part of Sinclair and we are pleased that Comcast’s greater Chicago customers can join the list of passionate fans that enjoy Sinclair’s local sports programming,” said Barry Faber, Sinclair president of distribution and network relations.

The deal also arrives as Sinclair’s sports executive leadership is in the midst of transition. The company earlier this month named Steve Rosenberg as its president of local sports, and earlier this week expanded the duties of current chief development officer Scott Shapiro to include an additional role as chief strategy officer of sports.