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Saturday, July 13, 2024

As Regional Sports Networks Struggle, Chicago Bucks the Trend

  • A new regional sports network is hitting the market in Chicago, despite serious challenges in that business.
  • The local shift is happening amid a competitive low for the White Sox, Bulls, and Blackhawks.
Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

There are signs of stress everywhere for the regional sports network business, perhaps no more so than with the ongoing drama surrounding Diamond Sports Network. But Bulls and White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf is still entering that troubled landscape with an ambitious development of a new RSN for the Chicago market. 

Reinsdorf has completed a deal with Standard Media to create the Chicago Sports Network, which will become a key player in the No. 3 U.S. media market. CHSN, as it will be known for short, will show both of Reinsdorf’s teams, as well as the NHL’s Blackhawks. The Bulls and Blackhawks will begin airing on CHSN this fall, while the White Sox will follow beginning with the 2025 season. All three teams have been aired since ’04 on NBC Sports Chicago, which is now expected to shut down. 

The creation of CHSN marks a pivot of sorts for Reinsdorf after more than a year of active consideration of what to do with his teams’ local media rights. He previously planned to move those rights to Stadium, the multiplatform sports media network in which he acquired a controlling stake last year. But instead Reinsdorf will partner with Standard Media, which is based in Tennessee and an owner of four over-the-air television stations, to create the new network, with the Danny Wirtz–led Blackhawks also part of the effort. 

Jason Coyle, previously the president of Stadium, will now shift over to serve in the same role for CHSN, and part of his charge will be to lead distribution efforts across cable, over-the-air, and digital platforms. There’s likely an uphill battle there as CHSN will need to negotiate with Comcast, the company that the three teams just spurned in leaving NBC Sports Chicago, and an entity already taking a hard line with other RSNs.

But the Chicago effort still raises the bigger questions of why a new RSN and why now?

“As we set out to design the network, we began and ended every discussion with the simple question: What is best for our fans?” Coyle said in a statement. “What is the best approach to distribution? How can we push the limits of both in-game and studio production? We plan to serve our fans on as many platforms and in as many markets as our rights allow.”

The market’s other RSN, Marquee Sports Network, remains in operation and is centered on its coverage of MLB’s Cubs and WNBA’s Sky. 

Rough Times

The formation of CHSN arrives during a collective period of struggle for the three teams. The White Sox currently hold MLB’s worst record, the Bulls have not won a playoff series since 2015 and have been in the postseason just once in the last seven years, and the Blackhawks have an active non-playoff streak going into its fifth season. 

Despite the ambitious intent of the RSN effort, it’s not the only major initiative for Reinsdorf, as he’s also pursuing a new ballpark for the White Sox near downtown Chicago. 

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