By Anne Sommerkamp

As of this writing, Sept. 28, 2019 could be the last game broadcast on WGN. The station has been carrying Chicago pro sports since 1948, beginning with the Cubs. The Hawks, Bulls and Sox have been on and off WGN over the years, but all four teams seem to be going out together in 2020.

The Hawks, Bulls, and Sox are going to Comcast Sports’ newly named NBCSCH, and a new “All Cubs-All the Time” Regional Sports Network will debut for the 2020 baseball season. Cub fans will have to pay to see them play on the Marquis Sports network. Marquis Sports is being launched by Sinclair broadcasting.  Sinclair has been steadily growing and acquiring new affiliates in more and more markets for decades. It has, in the process, spread a conservative message enforced by mandates on local news anchors to read required copy. Locally owned Sinclair stations must also air partisan commentaries by figures like Boris Epshteyn, Sinclair’s chief political analyst and a former Trump aide in both the 2016 campaign and the White House. Sinclair could soon be available in over 72% of the households in the United States presenting extremely far right news content. 

How can one broadcast entity be allowed access to 72% of all homes in the U.S.? Capitalism and good lawyers that’s how. The Federal Communications Commission doesn’t allow broadcast companies to serve more than 39% of households. To get around the 39 percent cap, Sinclair said in an FCC filing that it intends to sell stations in eight markets, including New York, Chicago, and Seattle. BUT that doesn’t mean those stations won’t be influenced by Sinclair.

As reported in Variety, Sinclair doesn’t plan to be too far removed from WPIX and WGN. The filing discloses that Sinclair already has buyers lined up for both stations and that Sinclair intends to continue running the stations through an “options and services agreement” inked with the buyers. Sinclair won’t own these stations, but still plans to spread the conservative message to those massive audiences. 

Back to the Cubs… Chicagoans are used to seeing sports on TV for free, but there isn’t another big city in the country that enjoys over-the-air access to so many local pro teams and games. The almighty dollar has pushed teams onto regional sports networks (RSNs), such as NBCSCH and the Cubs’ Marquee Sports Network.

The RSNs have the right to sell some games to WGN, allowing fans who only have over-the-air TV to see the Cubs. There won’t be as many games on free TV as Chicago fans are used to. In New York, for example, the Yankees and Mets, who are the majority owners of their own network, sell a package of games to WPIX. The Yankees will air 21 games over the air and the Mets 25. Baseball is the ideal sport for such an arrangement because of the number of games available. The Yankees and Mets can afford to sell off a game per week with roughly 150 games available after the national networks select their share. 

The Ricketts family, who owns the Cubs has made over three times the 900 million dollars paid by the Ricketts in 2009. The Ricketts family made significant contributions to the Trump campaign. 

Sinclair Broadcasting is owned by the Julian Sinclair Smith family from Maryland and is often criticized for its conservative bent. Critics including former news anchor Dan Rather have described Sinclair’s practices as being “an assault on our democracy” by disseminating what is perceived to be Orwellianlike propaganda to its local stations.

All in all, there is a lot of money being made and spent. The worrisome part is the rightwing bloviation getting more exposure in more markets.