WGN boss offers parting shots at Cubs amid radio split
BY GORDON WITTENMYER Staff Reporter June 3, 2014 9:04PM
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It has been all but imminent since October, but one of the longest broadcasting relationships in American sports will officially end Thursday morning.
That’s when the Cubs have scheduled a news conference at Wrigley Field to announce a new broadcast-rights deal for a reported seven years with the CBS Radio family of stations, including WBBM-AM (780), WSCR-AM (670) and 105.9-FM.
The Cubs confirmed the split with a news release on Wednesday.
The new deal begins with the 2015 season, marking the end of the team’s 90-year relationship with WGN radio, home to legendary Cubs voices from Jack Brickhouse and Harry Caray to Pat Hughes and Ron Santo.
The value of the new rights deal wasn’t immediately clear, but leaving WGN radio was not the Cubs’ idea.
Jimmy de Castro, WGN Radio president, said the move was a tough decision, but business dictated the split.
“In my opinion, they’re making step after step after step that are PR nightmares,” de Castro told the Sun-Times. “At the same time, they’ve lost 35 games this year, 288 games in the last three years, and no one’s listening or watching.
“We’ve lost a lot of money on the Cubs, and we’ve stood behind their rebuild for years,” de Castro continued. “And we offered to continue to lose a lot of money in the future, but not the kind of money that CBS is going to lose. It’s just an amazingly layered deal. I can’t figure it out. I’ve been around the broadcast business a really long time, and it makes no sense.
“It would be irresponsible, financially, to pay that kind of money.”
The station exercised an opt-out provision in the contract last fall over declining ratings and revenue losses during a rebuilding process that resulted in a three-year franchise-record 288 losses in 2011-13.
That move followed the Cubs’ decision to opt out of their WGN-TV deal to seek better long-term regional TV rights fees and left the Cubs on WGN radio through this season.
“We’re still going to be associated with the Cubs,” de Castro said. “We still think it’s going to be a big, big part of our platform. We’re still going to spring training.’’