YouTube TV effectively drops the Cubs’ Marquee network before ever carrying it

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CHICAGO — If you’re wondering why streaming service YouTube TV has yet to cut a deal with Marquee Sports Network, now you have an answer.

YouTube TV said Thursday its negotiations with Sinclair Broadcast Group to carry Sinclair’s regional sports networks are at an impasse, and it plans to drop the 20-plus channels it carries this weekend.

With Sinclair being the Cubs’ partner in Marquee, the channel that launched last weekend effectively has been dumped before the subscription streaming service from Google parent Alphabet ever picked it up.

These standoffs are rarely permanent, but they can stretch on. And Marquee’s status is tied to all of those other Sinclair-owned regional sports channels, most branded as Fox Regional Sports Networks.

The Cubs are one of more than 40 Major League Baseball, NBA and NHL teams whose local TV rights are tied up in Sinclair regional networks.

The fact YouTube TV is cutting off its subscribers from them is ironic in that the service has in recent years been the presenting sponsor of the World Series and NBA Finals.

All of that marketing money has been spent to be associated with sports from which it now will be disassociated.

Sinclair President and CEO Chris Ripley, whose company’s share price has dropped considerably since it said it was acquiring all of those regional sports networks, told analysts Wednesday on his quarterly earnings call that Marquee was “an active negotiation.”

Yet Crane Kenney, the Cubs president of business operations, sounded Thursday morning as though he believed getting YouTube TV on board might be a challenge for Marquee.

“It’s hard to predict what they’re going to do,” Kenney told Cubs radio flagship WSCR-AM 670’s Mike Mulligan and David Haugh. “Obviously Alphabet is the owner there and does have some different views on the way they’re going to approach the market.

“I would say if you can leave aside for a second the whole question of Marquee, just in general, the video marketplace is undergoing a lot of change. I would put YouTube in the camp of more of an unknown than some of the others.”

It’s possible YouTube TV is posturing for negotiating leverage, leaving sports fans caught in the crossfire. But that doesn’t mean its concerns are frivolous.

“We do not take this decision lightly,” YouTube TV tweeted. “This is a reflection of the rising cost of sports content. You may have noticed several other TV services have also decided to remove Fox Regional Sports Networks from their lineups.”

FuboTV dropped the Sinclair sports channels at the beginning of the year, and Sling (the streaming business of Dish Network, which has said it is determined to upend the regional sports network business model) purged them last summer.

What might make the YouTube TV move upsetting to some Cubs fans is it had been eyed as a potential alternative in case no carriage agreement is reached with Comcast’s Xfinity, the largest TV service provider in the market, serving roughly half of Chicago-area homes.

Marquee will be the only channel for people in what MLB designates as the Cubs TV market to watch the roughly 150 regular-season games the team controls.

And even cord cutters have to sign up with some service to get Marquee, which isn’t being made available as an a la carte offering.

Such was the excitement over rival subscription streaming service Hulu + Live TV announcing its pickup of Marquee ahead of last week’s launch that no one seemingly noticed the absence of a start date for actually carrying the channel. When Marquee’s launch came and went without availability on Hulu, excitement considerably.

Other options, should Xfinity subscribers choose to defect, include AT&T TV Now, U-Verse and DirecTV. But it’s probably too soon for that.

Opening Day isn’t until March 26.

“I’m not sure what Comcast is waiting for,” Kenney said on the Score. “But we’ll obviously keep working on it and look forward to getting them up before the opening day of the regular season.”

Comcast — which owns a stake in NBC Sports Chicago with the White Sox, Bulls and Blackhawks — has at least one big incentive to drag its feet.


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