Crane Kenney on Cubs’ TV rights and new demand: ‘It’s a great time to be us’

Two massive media mergers that could be completed this year might have the Cubs in the right place at the right time to capitalize on the “game-changer” TV-rights deal business operations president Crane Kenney has talked about for years.

“It’s a great time to be us,” Kenney said Saturday, outlining how the pending AT&T-Time Warner and Disney-Fox mergers might affect the Cubs’ ability to optimize bidding for broadcast and streaming rights starting in 2020.

“The encouraging signs are this: more bidders in the marketplace than ever, which is good for an auction; our ratings are obviously up, which is good for us,” he said. “What is interesting, though, is you’re seeing Disney, who wants control of local [rights], who never really played in the local [rights business], buying the Fox regionals.”

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Cubs business president Crane Kenney.

Kenney said the streaming distribution platforms such as Amazon and Facebook also are part of a market for Cubs rights that has grown dramatically just in the past year.

He said the team needs to wait until at least one of the mergers is finalized to take the next step toward seeking bids for potentially multiple distribution deals. But Kenney doesn’t want to go into 2019 without a partner lined up, “so something probably happens this year.”

If the Cubs are successful, it could have a domino effect in the market, with Kenney saying the team is “probably 80 percent inclined” to leave its NBC Sports Chicago partnership with the Bulls, Blackhawks and White Sox.

“We like controlling our own destiny,” he said. “You start adding partners, it becomes a little more complicated.”

Notes: Manager Joe Maddon, responding to a fan question Saturday at the Cubs Convention, said he hasn’t talked to the front office about a contract extension and is not focused on that. Maddon has two years and
$12 million left on his five-year deal. “I don’t want to go anywhere else,” he said. “I’m a Cub right now, and I want to be a Cub for many years to come.”

υ Two new elevators by Opening Day and eight new concession stands by the end of July are scheduled for 2018, as are bigger dugouts pushed farther down both lines and full-size batting cages.

Follow me on Twitter @GDubCub.

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com