On Feb. 10, two days before Chicago Cubs pitchers and catchers report to spring training in Mesa, Arizona, the Marquee Sports Network will launch a promotional campaign for the team’s new television home.
This season all local Cubs telecasts will be on Marquee, a joint venture of the Cubs and Sinclair Broadcast Group.
The network launches Feb. 22, when the Cubs play their first pre-season game.
It’s a big change in the second City. Cubs games had been broadcast on WGN-TV for 70 years and on cable on NBC Sports Chicago, a joint venture of Comcast and the Cubs, White Sox, Bulls and Blackhawks since 2005.
“There are going to be people still trying to figure out ‘where do I watch the Cubs games,’” said Amy McDevitt, VP marketing for Marquee.
The campaign uses the theme “The New Home Of . . .” with headlines like “The New Home of Hope,” “The New Home of Drama,” “The New Home of Connectivity.”
“We’re going to tap into and drive home awareness of all the brand benefits using imagery and emotion and what fans go through when they’re watching nine innings of Cubs baseball.”
The campaign is likely to run beyond Opening Day and probably into mid-April, McDevitt said.
Marquee Network has been getting a lot of inquiries on its website from people wondering where to find the new channel. The website had a widget that lets people punch in their zip code and carrier to find the network’s channel position;.
Sinclair has helped Marquee get carriage in about 40% of Chicago area homes, but the big question is whether Marquee will be available to subscribers of Comcast, the market’s dominant cable provider with 1.5 million homes.
Comcast took a year to launch The Big Ten Network 10 years ago, and in Los Angeles, the Dodgers’ SportsNet L.A. has been unable to reach carriage agreements with DirecTV and other carriers, leaving most viewers in the dark.
With cord cutting, cable carriers have been looking to cut the cost of their TV packages, making negotiations with high-priced regional sports networks increasingly contentious.
Michael McCarthy, general manager of Marquee Sports Network, doesn’t expect the channel or Cubs fans to get shut out
“We're hopeful, optimistic,” McCarthy said.
Cable carriage negotiations often come down to the last minute, he noted. “I can't imagine that we would have a Cubs season without Comcast. But we don't have any news to report as of this very moment.”
Marquee is also looking to add carriage with virtual MVPDs like Hulu Plus Live TV and YouTube TV to reach people who are streaming TV.
Advertisers have been finding the new network, McCarthy said.
“We’re actually way ahead of our selling schedule and we’re pretty pleased with the number of sponsors that have signed on,” he said.
McCarthy wasn’t ready to name sponsors but the network has struck deals with Toyota, whose name is on the famous marquee outside historic Wrigley Field, beer supplier A-B InBev, maker of Budweiser, and Binny’s Beverage Depot, whose spokesman the last few years had been Cubs manager Joe Maddon, whose contract expired and will be the skipper of the Los Angeles Angels this season.