|Country of origin||United States|
|Major broadcasting contracts||Chicago Blackhawks (NHL)
Chicago Bulls (NBA)
Chicago Cubs (MLB)
Chicago Fire (MLS)
Chicago White Sox (MLB)
WGN Sports is the programming division of WGN-TV (channel 9), an independent television station located in Chicago, Illinois, United States – which is owned by the Tribune Broadcasting subsidiary of Tribune Media – that is responsible for all sports broadcasts on the station, some of which were previously also broadcast on its former national superstation feed WGN America.
In the Chicago market, WGN-produced telecasts of Chicago Cubs, White Sox, Bulls and Blackhawks, Fire games also occasionally air on independent station WCIU-TV (channel 26), under the brand "WGN Sports on The U", and The CW affiliated/MyNetworkTV owned-and-operated station WPWR-TV (channel 50), under the brand "WGN Sports on My50". Game telecasts produced by WGN-TV are also syndicated to television stations in Illinois, Indiana and Iowa.
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 their 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 television and radio 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 by 2008, which by that time were split between WGN-TV and WCIU-TV) as it began sharing the rights to the Cubs as well as the White Sox with regional cable sports networks (including SportsChannel Chicago, later FSN Chicago, and presently with Comcast SportsNet Chicago when that network launched in 2006), culminating with Tribune's $845 million sale of the team to Thomas S. Ricketts (son of TD Ameritrade founder J. Joseph Ricketts) in August 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 opt-out clause exercise, the team gave the station a 30-day window to make a counteroffer for a deal lasting through the 2019 season – which, in any instance, would raise the rights fees that WGN pays the team from an annual rate of $20 million, and align the contract with the end of the team's cable rights deal. On January 7, 2014, WGN-TV announced a deal with the Cubs to air a reduced slate of 45 games per season beginning in 2015; the remaining 25 over-the-air Cubs telecasts would air on ABC owned-and-operated station WLS-TV (channel 7), which acquired partial broadcast rights to those games in December 2014.
WGN-TV regained the broadcast rights to the White Sox in 1973, although 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 sports anchor on the station's newscasts during the 1970s.
Channel 9 exclusively carried White Sox games in 1981, but lost that team's rights to another independent station competitor WFLD-TV (channel 32, now a Fox owned-and-operated station) the following year. With the retirement of Brickhouse after the 1981 season, Caray was dispatched from the South Side to replace him 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 emerging prominence as a national superstation during the 1980s and 1990s, Caray's fan base – and that of the Cubs – grew beyond Chicago and the Midwestern United States.
The team's eight-year run on WFLD ended with it and the Sox involved in a lawsuit over allegations by station representatives of team mismanagement that resulted in declining viewership for the games and profit losses for WFLD on the contract (which respectively slid from a 5.1 rating share and $1.5 million profit in 1985 to a 1.7 share and $1.4 million loss in 1988, resulting in the rights fees costing four times more than the accrued revenue) as well as breached advertising agreements with the Chicagoland Dodge Dealers auto franchise. Following an out-of-court settlement between the team and WFLD station management, the White Sox announced on September 14, 1989, that it would move its local telecasts back to WGN-TV beginning with the 1990 season, when co-owner Jerry Reinsdorf (a Chicago-area attorney and real estate investor) agreed to long-term deals with the station for both the Sox and his NBA franchise, the Chicago Bulls.
The Bulls originally broadcast their games 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. After losing the rights to WFLD for four years through the same agreement that resulted in that station also re-acquiring the local television rights to the White Sox, 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 first had their games carried by the station from 1961 until 1975. WGN-TV's broadcasts were limited to away games, as the Blackhawks' owner at the time, Bill Wirtz, had long prohibited televised coverage of his team's home games in order to sustain ticket sales. Following the elder Wirtz's death in September 2007, his son Rocky Wirtz and successor ended the home game television blackout; on March 30, 2008, the Blackhawks announced a broadcasting agreement with channel 9 (which became the team's new broadcast television home) and Comcast SportsNet Chicago that would allow both broadcasters to carry a divided schedule of the team's home and away games beginning with the 2008–09 season. 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 that air 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 were 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 were limited to the Chicago area signal during the latter years of WGN America's tenure as the station's national feed. 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 the National Basketball Association filed a lawsuit over WGN's national transmission of the team's games over its then superstation feed. This decision led cable provider Tele-Communications, Inc. (TCI) to remove the national WGN channel 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; however, viewer outcry over the decision in some markets led TCI to back off its plans to drop the national WGN feed from its systems in five Midwestern states.
On July 8, 1999, WGN-TV and independent station WCIU-TV entered into a sports programming arrangement, in which the latter station would carry select Bulls and White Sox games, and a limited number of Cubs games, that are produced by and contracted to air on WGN-TV for exclusive broadcast within the Chicago market. This is due to network affiliation contracts (first enforced by The WB, and presently by The CW) that limit the number of programming preemptions on an annual basis, and broadcasting restrictions put in place by the NBA which limited the WGN national feed to air only fifteen Bulls games per season (though these national broadcasts usually varied between 10 and 20 telecasts depending on the year for the remainder of WGN America's national broadcast rights to the games). The remaining Bulls games produced by WGN-TV were split between the station's Chicago area signal and WCIU-TV. Until 2015, Blackhawks games aired on channel 9 were also exclusive to the Chicago market (in this case, this was due to the NHL's exclusive broadcast contracts, such as its deal with NBCUniversal that began in 2008). On February 19, 2015, WCIU owner Weigel Broadcasting terminated its agreement with Tribune to carry WGN-produced Cubs and White Sox telecasts, in an effort to limit scheduling conflicts with channel 26's then-recently launched early-prime time newscast (produced through a news share agreement with WLS-TV); WPWR-TV replaced WCIU as WGN's overflow outlet for these baseball games.
Restrictions similar to those that affected WGN America (as well as the absence of contractual streaming rights) also prevent WGN-TV from running sports highlights during live streams of the station's newscasts on the WGNTV.com website (unusual since some stations, including a few of WGN-TV/WGN America's Tribune-owned sister stations, have had permission to run sports highlights during live streams of local newscasts on their websites and mobile applications), which are replaced with a screen noting the restrictions as the audio portion of the sports segments are streamed.
As a result of the transfer of the Chicago CW affiliation from WGN-TV to WPWR on September 1, 2016, per an exemption included by Tribune in its May 2016 affiliation agreement with CW managing partner CBS Corporation that renewed affiliations for twelve of Tribune's 13 CW-affiliated stations, WGN Sports is expected to migrate Cubs, White Sox, Bulls and Blackhawks sports telecasts produced by the station that it had previously deferred to WPWR and WCIU exclusively to Channel 9 once it converts into an independent station.
Distribution outside the Chicago market
During the 37 years that it served as the national feed of WGN-TV, its superstation feed – which eventually became known as WGN America – carried most of the station's sports telecasts outside of the Chicago market. Between 1978 and 1990, WGN-TV's Chicago signal was distributed nationwide, resulting in viewers outside of Chicago being able to watch the station's sports telecasts as they were seen locally (with local advertising and station promotions intact), unless the games were blacked out by request from local stations that had the exclusive market rights to the Chicago teams' opponents. Until 2014, the national channel aired all Cubs and White Sox games and about 10 to 20 Chicago Bulls NBA games that WGN-TV televised locally in the Chicago market.
As part of Tribune's conversion of the network from a superstation into a general entertainment cable channel, the company announced that WGN America would no longer broadcast Chicago Cubs, Bulls and White Sox games. Tribune Media president and chief executive officer Peter Liguori cited limited revenue and viewership accrued from the broadcasts (revenue was reportedly only covering 20% of the rights fees) behind the decision to drop the national telecasts; several seasons of sub-par play by the Cubs (whose television package cost five times as much for rights fees alone as the revenue it brought in for the national broadcasts) after Tribune's sale of the team to Thomas S. Ricketts in late 2009. Even prior to the decision, WGN America had chosen not to air certain sports related programming carried on the Chicago signal such as the Blackhawks' victory parade following the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs and a half-hour special paying tribute to the late Cubs player and broadcaster Ron Santo in 2011 (although a few Tribune and Local TV-owned partner stations aired the funeral on their digital subchannels and the Blackhawks' victory parade was shown on the NHL Network using the WGN-TV feed). The last sports telecast from WGN-TV to air on WGN America was a Chicago Bulls NBA game against the Golden State Warriors that aired on December 6, 2014.
Outside of stations in Illinois, Indiana and Iowa that carry the games through syndication agreements, WGN-produced sports telecasts are now only viewable elsewhere in North America via Canadian television providers that carry the Chicago television station's signal or through the out-of-market sports packages NHL Center Ice (for Blackhawks telecasts), NBA League Pass (for Bulls telecasts) and MLB Extra Innings (for Cubs and White Sox telecasts). Prior to striking agreements with other stations in Illinois and Indiana to carry Blackhawks games in 2015, these methods were the only ways that American viewers could view WGN's Blackhawks game coverage outside the Chicago market, since WGN America was not permitted to carry the team's games.
Beginning with the 2015 Major League Baseball season, Cubs and White Sox games aired by WGN-TV in the Chicago area became available nationally through the DirecTV version of Extra Innings via the station's local feed, and incorporates local commercials and station promos that were omitted from the national simulcasts on WGN America in recent years.
Dating back to at least the early 1980s, WGN-TV had syndicated its Cubs and White Sox telecasts to television stations in parts of the Midwestern U.S. (among them, WCEE (now Daystar owned-and-operated station WPXS) in East St. Louis, Illinois-St. Louis, Missouri, during its tenure as an independent station); select Bulls games aired by WGN and WCIU were also simulcast to many of these same stations and others within the team's designated market territory. All White Sox, Bulls and Cubs games televised on WCIU began to be syndicated to local stations in central Illinois and Iowa through the "WGN Sports Network" service beginning with the teams' 2011 seasons.
With the conversion of WGN America into a traditional cable channel, WGN-TV chose to expand distribution of its Chicago Cubs, White Sox, Bulls and Blackhawks telecasts through syndication agreements with 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 (channel 13) in Des Moines and WQAD-TV (channel 8) 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). Most notably, WISH-TV (channel 8) in Indianapolis reached agreements to carry the station's Cubs, White Sox and Blackhawks telecasts (as well as games from the former that are produced by WLS-TV) as part of its efforts to restore sports content to its lineup in the months following the loss of its CBS affiliation – ironically, to WGN-TV sister station WTTV (channel 4) – and its subsequent switch to The CW in January 2015. Some games also air on MyNetworkTV-affiliated sister WNDY-TV (channel 23) due to pre-emption limitations included in The CW's affiliation contracts. WISH and WNDY do not carry Bulls telecasts due to the presence of the Indiana Pacers (and due to restrictions enforced by the NBA on regional broadcasts outside of a team's designated territory), whose games air on Fox Sports Indiana.
Broadcast rights by station
(of channel carrying events)
|Chicago Cubs||Chicago White Sox||Chicago Bulls||Chicago Blackhawks|
Iowa City–Dubuque, Iowa
|KCRG-TV 9||ABC (9.1)
Antenna TV (9.3)
(mainly on either 9.2 or 9.3; select games on 9.1)
(mainly on either 9.2 or 9.3; select games on 9.1)
|Des Moines–Ames, Iowa||WOI-DT 5||ABC|
|KDMI 19||This TV|
|KCWI 23.1||The CW|
|Davenport, Iowa–Rock Island–
|WQAD-TV 8||ABC (8.1)
Antenna TV (8.2)
(mainly on 8.3; select games on 8.1)
(mainly on 8.3; select games on 8.1 and 8.2)
|Fort Wayne, Indiana||WANE-TV 15.2||Antenna TV|
|Indianapolis, Indiana||WISH-TV 8
|Peoria–Bloomington, Illinois||WAOE 59||MyNetworkTV|
|Rockford, Illinois||WREX 13.3||Me-TV|
|WIFR-TV 23.2||Antenna TV|
|Quincy, Illinois–Hannibal, Missouri–
|WGEM 10||The CW (10.2)
(mainly on 10.2; select games on 10.3)
(mainly on 10.2; select games on 10.3)
|South Bend–Elkhart, Indiana||WSJV 28.2||Heroes & Icons|
|WAND 17||NBC (17.1)
Cozi TV (17.2)
(mainly on 17.2; select games on 17.1)
|WBUI 23||The CW|
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