NBC Sports Chicago shares bleak outlook with employees for deal with White Sox, Bulls, Blackhawks

NBC Sports Chicago is closing in on the reality that it will lose the White Sox, Bulls and Blackhawks this fall. The regional sports network painted a bleak picture for the employees on Thursday, saying it saw no path to reaching an agreement with the teams before their contract expires on Oct. 1, the Sun-Times has learned.

Kevin Cross, President and General Manager of NBC 5, Telemundo Chicago and NBC Sports Chicago, has personally begun meeting with affected employees at the NBC Tower and RSN studios at River North Point Center. Although he was still hopeful of reaching an agreement, he is now focused on making sure employees get back on their feet.

Cross did not address the new network that will own the rights to the teams this fall, nor did he provide a final date for NBCSCH, which will shut down without broadcasting games. Last month, Cross held a video meeting to calm concerned employees after the Sun-Times reported that the teams would launch their own RSN. NBCSCH declined to comment.

An announcement from the new network is expected next week, although previously planned announcements did not happen.

The network structure became clearer. Stadium, the multiplatform sports network owned by Sox and Bulls president Jerry Reinsdorf, will not serve as a home for the network, although it will provide programming. The stadium will remain as it is within Reinsdorf’s Silver Chalice media company, available online and through its app and distributors.

The new network will be part of a new company with partner Standard Media Group, a small company based in Nashville, Tennessee, investing in the network and helping with its distribution. The latter will be the biggest challenge facing the RSN, especially with Comcast, given the high prices providers pay for carrying sports and the small local audience that watches them.

Comcast was looking to take RSNs to a higher price level. Last year, Seattle moved ROOT Sports (Mariners and Trail Blazers) from the Popular TV package to the Ultimate TV package. This year, it moved up to MASN (Nationals and Orioles) and SportsNet Pittsburgh (Penguins and Pirates) and dropped Diamond Sports Group’s Bally-branded networks when Diamond declined to move up.

Chicago’s new RSN could be placed in the final tier, while the Cubs’ Marquee Sports Network will remain in the grassroots tier until its agreement with Comcast expires. MSG in New York and Altitude in Denver should serve as cautionary tales for both Chicago networks, as well as fans. MSG and Altitude have been off Comcast for years due to carriage disputes.

With that in mind, the new network is in talks with local broadcast stations about broadcasting the games, a growing trend in sports broadcasting as cable subscriptions decline and programmers seek widespread distribution. As streaming options proliferate — the new network is expected to have one, too — and over-the-air (OTA) streaming returns to prominence, cable is feeling the pressure.

Without broadcasting the games, NBC Sports Chicago will shut down, meaning parent company NBCUniversal will continue to reduce RSN inventory. NBC Sports Northwest closed after the Trail Blazers left ROOT Sports, and NBC Sports Washington sold to Capitals and Wizards owner Ted Leonsis, who renamed the channel the Monumental Sports Network. NBCU’s RSNs in Boston, Philadelphia and California still exist.

The new network is expected to maintain some continuity with staff who have helped produce game and shoulder programs for years, such as producers, directors, production technicians and sales representatives. Some of the employees at NBC Sports Chicago have been with the network through all of its iterations — SportsChannel, Fox Sports Net and Comcast SportsNet.

CSN launched on October 1, 2004, in partnership with Comcast as the cable home for the Cubs, Sox, Bulls, and Hawks, whose games were also broadcast on WGN-Channel 9 and WCIU-Channel 26. On October 2, 2017, CSN was rebranded as NBC Sports Chicago to align with NBC’s eight other RSNs. The Sox, Bulls and Hawks renewed with the network in 2019, which was the Cubs’ final year with them before launching Marquee.

Remote patrol

Fox Sports has announced its full schedule for “Fox College Football Friday,” a designated prime-time window that will feature mostly Big Ten teams. Illinois will visit Nebraska at 7pm on September 20th, and Northwestern will visit Maryland at 7pm on October 11th.

• Fox NFL analyst and former Bears end Greg Olsen He won the Sports Emmy for Outstanding Personality/Analyst this week. Of course, that honor will do nothing to stop Fox from replacing Olsen with him Tom Brady In its suite No. 1.

• Bulls TV Voice Adam Amin And the analyst Adam Wainwright The Cubs-Cardinals game will be called Saturday night on Fox 32. The game will air Sunday night on ESPN, with Karl Ravitchanalysts David Conn And Eduardo Perez And the reporter Buster Olney On the call.

Wayne RandazzoAnalyst Dontrelle Willis And the reporter Heidi Watney It will call the Orioles-White Sox game Friday night on Apple TV+.

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