O'Donnell: The Cubs, Sinclair Broadcasting and Comcast -- did Ricketts have a PR death wish?

  • Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts speaks on opening night of the Cubs Convention last Friday at the Sheraton Grand in Chicago. When he brought up the team's new Marquee Sports Network, it was not well received.

    Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts speaks on opening night of the Cubs Convention last Friday at the Sheraton Grand in Chicago. When he brought up the team's new Marquee Sports Network, it was not well received. Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

 
Updated 1/22/2020 6:56 PM

LESS THAN A YEAR AGO, the Cubs had imaging problems with the specters of Joe Ricketts' emails and the return of Addison Russell from domestic entrails hovering over the opening of training camp.

Less than a week ago, the Cubs consciously courted new PR wounds when Tom Ricketts happily introduced the topic of the team's fledgling Marquee Sports Network at its annual convention.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

He was booed and then couldn't believe it.

All of which proves, even to someone as skybox-afloat as the second-generation Ricketts, when you lay down with corporate dogs like Sinclair Broadcasting and Comcast, you're not going to come up smelling like Sweet Ivy Glade.

With Marquee's planned Feb. 22 launch date a mere five weeks away, the announcement of network specifics was clearly overdue.

But couldn't some well-salaried corporate communications type have made it clear to Ricketts that there was a better place and manner to do it than in front of a rightfully restless Cubs Convention crowd?

That Marquee is aligned with Sinclair -- the Maryland-based outfit that would have relished the propaganda aspects of Leni Riefenstahl and the 1936 Berlin Olympics -- is rough enough.

But toss in the stalemate over distribution rights with Comcast -- the Fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse -- and Ricketts wasn't merely flirting with disaster.

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He was begging for it.

Ricketts, Crane Kenney and all are somewhat passive observers as primary negotiations between Sinclair and Comcast drag on.

Sinclair is trying to maximize profit well into the future; Comcast is leveraging a holding action while trying to transition into the new age of predominant streaming.

Woo Woo-eyed Cubs fans lack enough unity and resolve to mount an effective protest.

So the high-level disharmonic will play itself out in due course, whenever that may be.

And Tom Ricketts learned yet again, fronting an MLB organization in a frothy major market isn't a game for silver spooners in short pants.

Especially ones with weak strategic media advice.

IT WON'T EXACTLY BE A DREAM WEEKEND at the NHL All-Star Game in St. Louis for Eddie Olczyk.

But the supremely versatile broadcaster will again get to mix two of his very favorite things for NBC Sports: hockey and horse racing.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"Edzo" will work color alongside Doc Emrick as the Peacock Network presents the ginned ASG Saturday night (WMAQ Channel 5, 7 p.m.).

And earlier in the day, from Enterprise Center, Olczyk will be dropped in as an expert analyst on NBC's multiplatform coverage of the $3 million Pegasus World Cup from Gulfstream Park (Channel 5, 3:30 p.m.).

"The All-Star Game is what it is," Olczyk told The Daily Herald.

"Since the NHL went to the three-game, three-on-three format, it's an exhibition involving the best in the game over a whole lot of open ice.

"It was an attempt by the league to make the weekend relevant again for fans, sponsors and the league's primary broadcast partners."

And about the Pegasus?

"All I can tell you is that I'm against (Richard Mandella's favored) Omaha Beach," the cash-money handicapper said.

"I'm looking for value and he's not going to be that. I'll know more once I get to study the field in their post positions and probably come up with someone who's not going to get hung anywhere at Gulfstream.

"Truthfully, I'm just very happy (NBC is) letting me work the race from St. Louis."

STREET-BEATIN': Intriguing "get" by "Saturday Night Live" for Super Bowl Eve Feb. 1: J.J. Watt will host and musical guest will be Luke Combs. (The video of Combs's "When It Rains It Pours" (q.v.) is great, even if it would make the late Chet Atkins roll over Beethoven.) ...

If Zach LaVine is selected to the NBA All-Star Game next week and John Paxson trades him before the Feb. 6 deadline, Ol' No. 5 looks like a very bold basketball mind once again. (Jerry Reinsdorf used to relish dissonant thought like that; LaVine's trade value may never be higher.) ...

Pat Fitzgerald and the Northwestern football Wildcats lost a tremendous fan with the passing of Dr. Robert LaVeau of Arlington Heights. Young "Dr. Robby" never missed a purple home game or a chance to tailgate. ...

Matt Zahn, who continues to try and impact at WBBM Channel 2 Sports, has few bigger boosters than Dr. Richard McPartlin of Des Plaines. (With good reason: Zahn is the good doctor's son-in-law.) ...

Mike Mulligan and buttoned-down David Haugh were surprisingly cuddly in some recent reminiscing about Jay Mariotti. (With a newspaper column, an elastic editor and a good on-air cast, a reborn Mariotti could significantly upgrade the fortunes of WSCR-670's afternoon-drive show.) ...

Shae Peppler's abrupt departure from WFLD Channel 32 Sports underscores how threadbare the talent pickings have become at the dormant Fox o-and-o. The news operation may have peaked when it debuted with Bruce Wolf, Robin Robinson, Kris Long and weatherman Dave Dobrowolski all those 'casts ago (Aug. 3, 1987.) ...

And yes, Joe Montana -- who spent 13 seasons with the 49ers and an autumnal two with the Chiefs -- had the line of Super Bowl 54's "dead week" when he said, "My team will win." But whoever can name the other five QBs who completed the SF-KC shuffle belongs in an adobe on Ken Jennings Boulevard: Alex Smith, Steve DeBerg, Steve Bono, Bob Gagliano and the inimitable Elvis Grbac.

• Jim O'Donnell's Sports & Media column appears Thursday and Sunday. Reach him at jimodonnelldh@yahoo.com.

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