Chicago Cubs: Old Style Beer Out, WGN-TV Next

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COMMENTARY | "It's our beer, and you can't have it!"

That was the stern warning Dennis Farina issued to any infidel intent on imbibing an "authentically kraeusened" Old Style. Of course, any Wrigley Field visitor (of legal drinking age, of course), regardless of origin or affiliation, willing to pay the ever-increasing price for G. Heileman's flagship pilsener could easily have as many as he or she wished.

Well, up until the end of the 2013 baseball season anyway. After a 63-year partnership, the Chicago Cubs opted to sign a deal with Anheuser-Busch InBev to become the team's exclusive beer and malt beverage partner. That agreement will extend to the Cubs' new spring training facility in Mesa, Ariz., as well, and will likely include a large sign in right field.

Mold Style. Old Pile. A beer by any other name would smell as sweet and would have that "crisp, rich freshness … full flavored with a delicate aftertaste." So why is Old Style such a beloved part of Wrigley Field and the Cubs? I can tell you from more experience that I'd care to admit that it's not about the taste.

Beer, particularly Old Style, is an intrinsic part of the Wrigley Field experience that fans and tourists alike have grown up with. People didn't become Cubs fans because of Old Style, but they became fans of Old Style because of its ties to the Cubs. The prospect of drinking a lukewarm barley soda on a hot day while watching a cold team was something to look forward to.

I even know this hack of a part-time freelance sportswriter who drank nothing but Old Style during the Cubs' 2003 playoff run. Numb from the final loss and unable to drink the last beer in the cooler, he stowed it in the fridge, where it was to await a Cubs title. It stayed for there for nearly 2 years until he moved to a new apartment, and then moved again in '06 to the new home he bought with his wife.

And so it was that in the summer of 2011, my writer friend and his wife arrived home to find that his father-in-law, a Chicago White Sox fan no less, had opened the beer and was drinking it. After the guy picked his jaw off the floor, he helped to finish the beer. And from what I understand, it wasn't all that bad. At least, no worse than an Old Style usually is. So much for Mr. Farina's warning, though.

And speaking of those old commercials, they ran frequently on WGN-TV, home of the Cubs since 1948. But Robert Channick of the Chicago Tribune reports that that partnership may soon be coming to an end as well, as the Cubs announced today that they have exercised an option to leave their contract with the Superstation.

At this point, WGN-TV has 30 days to meet a higher assessed market value for the broadcast rights. After that time is up, the Cubs would be free to seek out alternative options that could include a different partner or their own cable network.

As the contract is currently set, the Cubs get almost $20 million for 70 games on WGN, or just more than $285,000 per game. That might seem like a princely sum, but not after you consider that the Los Angeles Dodgers were able to command $7 billion over 25 years from Time Warner Cable for their own network. That deal nets the Dodgers over $1.7 million per game. For 162 games. For a quarter of a century.

A similar per-game rate for a new broadcast deal would net the Cubs almost $100 million in extra revenue each season. Say what you will about the motives and desires of the current ownership group, but that kind of money could easily lead to a swift improvement of the product on the field.

If this all comes to fruition and WGN-TV is indeed left out in the cold, it'll do so as a giant upon whose shoulders the Cubs' new broadcast partner will stand. In an earlier article, I wrote about the role WGN has played in creating legions of Cubs fans all around the country. Even though CSN Chicago and, to a much lesser extent, the local WCIU-TV have usurped a majority of the games, WGN remains synonymous with Chicago Cubs baseball.

There are sure to be some ongoing negotiations with WGN, and there's an online petition to keep Old Style at Wrigley. But times, they are a-changin'. A competitive team and the prospect of October baseball on the North Side would certainly ease the transition, but, absent that, the Cubs may face some backlash for their business decisions.

So what do you think? Will Wrigley Field be the same without Old Style? What about not watching the Cubs on WGN (Steve Goodman is rolling over in his grave at the thought)?

Evan Altman is a freelance sportswriter with a wealth of trivial pop culture knowledge. He is a self-loathing Chicago Cubs apologist whose love for the team was cultivated by watching or listening to games on WGN every summer afternoon as a child.

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