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Chicago Cubs (MLB)
Chicago White Sox (MLB)
Chicago Bulls (NBA)
Chicago Blackhawks (NHL)
WGN Sports is the programming division of WGN-TV (channel 9), a CW-affiliated television station located in Chicago, Illinois, United States – which is owned by the Tribune Broadcasting subsidiary of the Tribune Media Company – that is responsible for all sports broadcasts on the station, some of which are also broadcast on its national superstation feed WGN America.
WGN-TV also distributes its telecasts of Chicago Cubs, White Sox and Bulls games to television stations in Illinois, Indiana and Iowa – primarily those affiliated with The CW and MyNetworkTV – that are within each team's designated market area (including sister stations WHO-DT in Des Moines and WQAD-TV in Moline, Illinois – respectively affiliated with NBC and ABC – which carry WGN's baseball telecasts on their respective Antenna TV- and MyNetworkTV-affiliated digital subchannels).
Throughout its history, WGN-TV has had a long-standing association with Chicago sports. Perhaps with the exception of the NFL's Chicago Bears, each of the city's major professional sports franchises, along with several area collegiate teams, have had its games regularly televised over channel 9.
Cubs and White Sox baseball
The station's relationship with the Chicago Cubs traces back to channel 9's inception in April 1948, and was further cemented during the 28 years (from 1981 to 2009) that the Tribune Company owned the National League franchise. At the same time, channel 9 was also broadcasting games from Chicago's American League team, the White Sox. Jack Brickhouse, the longtime sports director (and later, vice president of sports programming) for the WGN stations, handled play-by-play announcing duties for the home games of both teams until 1967, when the White Sox ended their first stint on WGN-TV, and continued to call Cubs games until his retirement from broadcasting in 1981. With both teams, Brickhouse called over 5,000 baseball games during his career, sharing the booth with announcers such as Milo Hamilton, Lou Boudreau, Vince Lloyd and Lloyd Pettit. Over the years, the number of Cubs games on WGN gradually decreased (down to 70 per season, which are split between WGN-TV and WCIU-TV (channel 26)), culminating with the sale of the team from Tribune to Thomas S. Ricketts in 2009.
On November 5, 2013, the Cubs exercised an option to opt out of their television contract with WGN-TV following the 2014 season; as part of the move, the team gave the station a 30-day window to make a counteroffer – which, in any instance, would raise the rights fees that WGN pays the team from its current annual rate of $20 million – to obtain rights to games starting with the 2015 Major League Baseball season (the opt-out option reduced the duration of an agreement to broadcast Cubs games that Comcast SportsNet Chicago does not hold rights to from 2019 to 2022, aligning it with the end of the current term of the team's contract with the regional sports network); if WGN-TV opted not to produce a suitable bid or any bid at all, the broadcast rights would be opened up for negotiation with other local broadcast and cable television outlets. However in January 2014, reports surfaced that the Cubs and WGN-TV have discussed an option to allow the station to carry a reduced number of games for the 2015 season onward should the contract be renewed.
WGN-TV regained broadcast rights for the White Sox in 1973, but it opted to enter into a contract with then-competing independent station WSNS-TV (channel 44, now a Telemundo owned-and-operated station) to have that station carry the games, an arrangement that lasted through the 1980 season. With this, White Sox broadcaster Harry Caray joined the WGN family, occasionally sitting in as a sportscaster on the station's newscasts in the 1970s.
Channel 9 carried White Sox games exclusively in 1981, but the following year WGN lost that team's rights to another independent station competitor WFLD-TV (channel 32, now a Fox owned-and-operated station). With the retirement of Brickhouse after the 1981 season, Caray was dispatched from the South Side to replace Brickhouse as the Cubs' lead television voice. For the next 16 years, primarily working with analyst Steve Stone, Caray further established his place among Chicago's most-beloved personalities. Like Brickhouse, Caray was known for displaying an unapologetic, home team-oriented enthusiasm to his game calls, punctuated with memorable signature catchphrases for big plays (such as Caray's "Holy Cow!" and Brickhouse's "Hey-hey!"). Caray also brought his unique rendition of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" during the seventh-inning stretch to the channel 9 broadcast booth. With WGN-TV's prominence as a national superstation in the 1980s and 1990s, Caray's fan base – and that of the Cubs – grew beyond Chicago and the Midwestern United States.
After moving their games to WFLD in 1982 for an eight-year run, the White Sox returned to WGN-TV in 1990 when co-owner Jerry Reinsdorf agreed to long-term deals with the station for both the Sox and his NBA franchise, the Chicago Bulls.
The Bulls were broadcast on channel 9 from the team's inception in 1966 until 1973, and again from 1976 until 1985; Jack Brickhouse, Lorn Brown, Milo Hamilton and Bob Costas were among those assigned to work as Bulls play-by-play announcers, with Johnny "Red" Kerr serving as an analyst. The team's games returned to WGN-TV for the start of the 1989-90 season, just in time for the Bulls' dominance of the NBA during the Michael Jordan era.
The NHL's Chicago Blackhawks were carried by the station from 1961 until 1975. WGN-TV's broadcasts were limited to away games only, as the Blackhawks' owner at the time, Bill Wirtz, had long prohibited televised coverage of his team's home games. Following the elder Wirtz' death in September 2007, his son and successor Rocky Wirtz ended the home game television blackout, and soon made channel 9 the Blackhawks' new broadcast home. The station has aired 20 Blackhawks games per season, starting with a three-year contract that began in the 2008–09 campaign. On February 15, 2011, it was announced that the team had renewed their broadcast contract with WGN-TV for five additional years through the 2015-16 NHL season.
Other sporting events
In November 2010, WGN-TV became the home for Chicago Bears preseason and regular season games that are not carried by a broadcast network, simulcasting games televised on NFL Network's Thursday Night Football; under NFL rules, games aired on cable networks are required to be simulcast on a local broadcast station in each team's home market. This marked the first time that WGN broadcast games from all five major Chicago sports teams during the course of a single season. The Bears simulcasts are not carried on WGN America.
Along with its coverage of professional teams, WGN-TV also currently holds broadcast rights to the Illinois Derby, Hawthorne Gold Cup Handicap and Arlington Million horse races, the broadcasts of which are limited to the Chicago-area signal. The station had formerly broadcast football and basketball games from Chicago area college teams – such as Northwestern University, DePaul University and Loyola University – and other teams of the Big Ten Conference.
Broadcast rights issues
In 1996, WGN-TV temporarily lost the rights to broadcast Chicago Bulls basketball games after a lawsuit was filed by the National Basketball Association over WGN's national transmission of the team's games over its superstation feed. This decision led cable provider Tele-Communications, Inc. (TCI) to remove the superstation feed from some of its systems outside the Chicago area. TCI cited the loss of Bulls broadcast rights, along with its own decision to make room for additional cable channels, as the reasons behind its decision to drop the superstation feed of WGN; however, viewer outcry over the decision in some markets led TCI to back off plans to drop the WGN superstation feed in five Midwestern states.
In July 1999, WGN-TV and independent station WCIU-TV entered into a programming arrangement involving sports coverage. Select Bulls and White Sox games, and a handful of Cubs games, produced by and contracted to air on WGN-TV are broadcast on WCIU exclusively for broadcast within the Chicago market. This is due to network affiliation contracts that limit the number of programming preemptions per year, as well as rights restrictions put in place by the NBA which limit the WGN America feed to fifteen Bulls games per season (though these national broadcasts usually vary between 10 and 20 telecasts depending on the year).
The remaining Bulls games produced by WGN-TV are split between the station's Chicago area signal and WCIU-TV. Blackhawks games on channel 9 are exclusive to the Chicago market (Comcast holds exclusive national broadcast rights to the NHL through NBC and NBCSN as well as the Comcast SportsNet regional networks and any other Comcast-owned network used as an overflow game feed), however those games – and other sporting events cleared to air in the U.S. exclusively on WGN-TV in Chicago – are telecast on cable and satellite providers in Canada that carry the Chicago-area feed instead of WGN America (due to the replacement of WGN America with WGN-TV in 2007 by Shaw Broadcast Services) and are also carried in Canada on the leagues' cable packages in open defiance of the league's territorial blackouts (Rogers Sportsnet has exclusive national rights to the NHL in Canada). Some Blackhawks games occasionally air on NHL Network (which is co-owned by Comcast) using the WGN-TV feed.
In 2010, sports coverage produced by WGN-TV for broadcast on WCIU was rebranded as "WGN Sports on The U"; despite WGN having produced these sports telecasts for WCIU, the coverage had previously been broadcast under the titles "BullsNet", "CubsNet" and "SoxNet", rather than under the WGN name.
As part of Tribune's conversion of the network from a superstation into a general entertainment cable channel, WGN America reportedly will discontinue broadcasting Chicago Cubs, Bulls and White Sox game broadcasts beginning in 2015, citing limited revenue and viewership from the broadcasts and CEO Peter Liguori's dislike of the Cubs (Liguori is a New York Mets fan and describes the Cubs franchise as one that is “on this path to virtual irrelevancy,” presumably a factor in the radio side dropping Cubs broadcasts after 2014).
WGN announced in early October that Bulls games will not be carried on WGN America starting in 2015. Reportedly, its final Bulls broadcast was Dec. 6, 2014, a Bulls loss to the Golden State Warriors.
- WGN America | Contact Us/FAQ
- Cubs exercise option to end WGN-TV contract after next season, Chicago Tribune, November 6, 2013.
- No guarantees for WGN as Cubs look at next TV deal, Comcast SportsNet Chicago, January 18, 2014.
- White Sox, Bulls Leave Channel 32 For Channel 9, Chicago Tribune, September 15, 1989. Retrieved 12-10-2010.
- Blackhawks return to WGN-TV | About the Station | WGNTV.com | WGN TV | Chicago's CW
- WGN-TV/NBA headed back to court in 6-year-old case, Broadcasting & Cable, October 21, 1996.
- Katz, Richard. "Networks on chopping block; TCI makes mincemeat of programmers' lineups", Multichannel News, December 2, 1996. Retrieved February 24, 2011 from HighBeam Research.
- Becker, Dave. "TCI Will Retain WGN in Madison, The Superstation Will Be Available in Five States", The Wisconsin State Journal, December 20, 1996. Retrieved March 1, 2011 from HighBeam Research.
- Channel 26 gets Cubs, Bulls next season, Daily Herald, July 9, 1999. Retrieved June 3, 2013 from HighBeam Research.
- Confirmed by WGN-TV "WGN-TV Contact Page". Accessed June 8, 2007.
- Chicago Professional Sports L.P. & WGN Continental Broadcasting Co. vs. National Basketball Association. 961 Fed. 2d 667 (7th Cir. 1992)
- Marek, Lynne (May 30, 2014). "WGN America to drop Chicago sports". Chicago Business. Retrieved June 27, 2014.