SURPRISE, Ariz. — You don’t need a degree from Trump University to know that the Cubs are a booming business.
Forbes valued the franchise at $2.2 billion for the magazine’s annual Major League Baseball survey released Wednesday, ranking the Cubs fifth behind the New York Yankees ($3.4 billion), Los Angeles Dodgers ($2.5 billion), Boston Red Sox ($2.3 billion) and San Francisco Giants ($2.25 billion).
That represents a 160-percent increase from October 2009, when the Ricketts family finalized the details of a leveraged partnership with Sam Zell’s Tribune Co. and acquired a piece of Comcast SportsNet Chicago.
Not bad for an ownership group that’s done such a “rotten job,” as Donald Trump told The Washington Post editorial board this week, whining about how the Ricketts family is spending millions of dollars trying to stop the Republican presidential frontrunner.
The Forbes valuations — which represent a 22-percent increase for the Cubs from last year — can be viewed as an overall outline and not taken as gospel.
But last spring the Cubs were said to be valued at north of $2 billion — including future real-estate development in Wrigleyville and the potential for a new cable network — while accounting for the sale of non-controlling shares to a group of minority investors.
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Coming off five straight fifth-place finishes, the Cubs went out and won 97 games, advancing to the National League Championship Series and making Wrigley Field a destination again. That playoff surge fueled a spending spree that pushed the major-league payroll into the neighborhood of $150 million, a franchise record (or slightly higher than what it had been on Opening Day 2010).
The spending restrictions imposed by Zell as a condition of sale — and accepted by the Ricketts family — run through the 2019 season. With CSN Chicago holding exclusive cable rights through that same year — at a time of cord-cutting and uncertainty after the Dodgers’ boondoggle with SportsNet LA — president of business operations Crane Kenney is on deck and expected to deliver the next TV deal.
While Trump barks about the Super PAC stuff, chairman Tom Ricketts tries to avoid controversy and focus on the organization’s long-range plans. The Wrigley Field renovations are in full swing (after anti-Obama attack ads proposed to the family during the last presidential election cycle were leaked to the media, sidetracking the project).
This team is loaded with star power — Rookie of the Year Kris Bryant, Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta, All-Star first-baseman Anthony Rizzo and Manager of the Year Joe Maddon. Plus championship-tested veterans like Jon Lester, John Lackey and Ben Zobrist. A sturdy farm system built by Theo Epstein’s front office hasn’t been mortgaged yet, either.
Sports Illustrated just put the Cubs on a regional cover of the baseball-preview issue. The team reported a 98-percent renewal rate for season tickets and is averaging 14,924 fans per Cactus League game this spring at Sloan Park, the publicly financed complex in Mesa.
All this speaks for itself. So the Cubs will let Trump do all the talking and focus on trying to win their first World Series since the Theodore Roosevelt administration.