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Cubs’ new RSN gets key distribution on DirecTV

Major League Baseball’s Chicago Cubs made a major step forward its forthcoming Marquee Sports Network by landing a multiyear distribution agreement with AT&T that include carriage on major US satellite carrier DirecTV.

The deal represents the second distribution pact for the Cubs’ planned regional sports network, due to debut early next year, following one with Charter Communications. The deal was led by Sinclair Broadcast Group, a joint-venture partner in the channel with the Cubs. Marquee Sports Network will be the Cubs’ new exclusive local TV home after the club parted ways with NBC Sports Chicago.

The broader Sinclair-AT&T agreement also includes distribution for Sinclair’s battery of nearly 200 owned local broadcast stations, its 21 other RSNs recently acquired from Disney, the Tennis Channel, and the YES Network, of which Sinclair is a minority partner. 

Financial terms of the Sinclair-AT&T deal were not disclosed, and it’s not known what type of programming tier Marquee Sports Network will reside in for DirecTV. AT&T represents the second-largest carrier in the Cubs’ broadcast territory behind Comcast.

Getting distribution on DirecTV represents not only a major step for Marquee Sports Network because of that expansive reach, but also represents a marked divergence from the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Spectrum SportsNet LA. Nearly six years after debuting its RSN, the Dodgers remain locked in a bitter dispute with DirecTV and have not gained distribution on that service.

Chris Ripley, Sinclair president and chief executive told SportBusiness that he deliberately planned to avoid many of the challenges the Dodgers have faced.

“We now come with a huge portfolio of teams and a whole broadcast portfolio to make that [carriage] discussion easier with distributors,” Ripley said.

The distribution agreement, however, was announced in a rather terse, one-paragraph news release. AT&T’s large-scale move into the media business, represented in part by takeovers of DirecTV and Time Warner, has been under heavy fire from activist shareholder group Elliott Management Corp. as it seeks better stock performance.