The Critical 'I'

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Tuesday, December 02, 2003

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In about a year from now, Chicago sports fans will have a network where they can get their one-stop fill of Cubs, White Sox, Bulls, and (most surprisingly) Blackhawks. Comcast has partnered with the four sports teams to launch SportsNet Chicago, set to go live October 1, 2004. Apparently, all five entities will own different percentages of the network, which could reach as many as 3.5 million households.

The biggest shock here, and what really makes it newsworthy, is that the Blackhawks have bought into this and are going to have 39 of their games beamed into Chicago households. The NHL's ownership has been the last bastion of dinosaur thinking in terms of sports broadcasting, in that it's refused to allow many games--home or away contests--to be shown on television, apparently believing that it would drain ticket sales. Thinking that was debunked decades ago, in other words. I guess the dwindling fanbase they've been experiencing finally convinced oldtime owner Bill Wirtz to change his mind.

Notice no mention of the Bears. The NFL, of course, reserves the right to control the destiny of all its clubs' broadcast deals, which results in annual fees of some $80 million per team. So obviously, there's scant reason for the Bears, or any other NFL team, to be interested in a venture like this.