By Lillian Rizzo 

Comcast Corp. played ball with Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc., reaching a deal to carry Sinclair's newly created Chicago Cubs regional sports network, among its other TV stations.

Marquee Sports Network, the regional sports network formed by the Cubs and Sinclair last year, is now available to Comcast customers in the Chicago-area market. The deal comes hours ahead of the Cubs's home opener at Wrigley Field on Friday, where they will play the Milwaukee Brewers.

The Major League Baseball season kicked off Thursday after being halted during spring training due to the coronavirus pandemic, which led to a global shutdown of all major league sports.

The carriage agreement to bring the Cubs to Chicago residents is a part of a broader Comcast deal with Sinclair to carry all of its TV stations.

Comcast will carry Sinclair's 78 TV stations, as well as the Tennis Channel, its 18 Fox-branded regional sports networks, and the New York Yankees's YES Network.

The agreement comes as pay-TV providers such as Comcast are bleeding customers due to the consumer shift to streaming services like Netflix Inc. The Philadelphia cable giant had more than 20.8 million pay-TV subscribers as of March 31, after seeing 409,000 customers flee during the first quarter. It next reports quarterly earnings on July 30.

Sports is still considered part of the glue holding the traditional pay-TV bundle together. However, distributors are more often balking at the high prices that come with carrying sports networks. Comcast and Dish Network Corp. haven't carried Altitude, the exclusive network for Denver's basketball and hockey teams, since last fall.

In May, AT&T Inc.'s DirecTV began carrying the exclusive channel for the Los Angeles Dodgers after several years of not being able to reach an agreement with Charter Communications Inc., the distributor of the channel.

In 2019, Sinclair made a big bet on sports when it paid $10.6 billion for 21 regional sports networks from Walt Disney Co. Disney sold the networks after its $71.3 billion acquisition of Fox's major entertainment assets, paving the way for the deal's approval. Sinclair also purchased a majority stake in the YES Network.

As part of its foray into sports, Sinclair and the Cubs created the Marquee Network. Up until this year, Cubs' games were aired on over-the-air broadcast stations WGN-TV and WLS-TV, a rarity among MLB cities.

Write to Lillian Rizzo at Lillian.Rizzo@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

July 24, 2020 12:31 ET (16:31 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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