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Chicago White Sox (MLB)
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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 Company – that is responsible for all sports broadcasts on the station, some of which are also broadcast on its national superstation feed WGN America.
Throughout its history, WGN-TV has had a long 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 (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 home game play-by-play announcing duties for 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, 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 excersied an option to opt out of their television contract with WGN 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 2022 to 2019, aligning it with the end of the current term of CSN Chicago's contract); if WGN-TV opts 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.
WGN-TV regained broadcast rights for the White Sox in 1973, but it opted to enter into a contract with then-competing independent 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 alone 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 then-Blackhawks owner 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 through a three-year contract which 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 NFL Network's Thursday Night Football, as NFL rules require games aired on cable networks to be simulcast on a local broadcast station in the team's home market. This marked the first time that WGN broadcast games from all five major Chicago sports teams in a single season.
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 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 its transmission of Bulls games nationally through its superstation feed. This decision led cable provider 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 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 (channel 26) 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, and also due to 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, 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. Some Blackhawks games occasionally air on NHL Network 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.
- Cubs exercise option to end WGN-TV contract after next season, Chicago Tribune, November 6, 2013.
- 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
- 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)