Chicago Cubs Finances: A 2020 Vision

Jonathan Daniel

The headline has nothing to do with eyesight.

Looking for the Cubs to improve on the big-league field? Sure, prospects coming along could help, but according to Gordon Wittenmyer in the Sun-Times, the team could be six years from big-market spending:

Even before the Cubs lost their home opener Friday, their third loss in four games this season, chairman Tom Ricketts didn’t rule out the possibility that a long-promised boost to the baseball-operations budget might take that long to be fully realized.

That’s when the Cubs’ TV-rights deal with CSN (for more than half of their games) expires, making it the first year the Cubs can offer a single regional outlet their full schedule of TV rights — and theoretically reach full cash-in potential on any megadeal they plan to negotiate between now and then. The Cubs exercised an opt-out clause for the end of this season with the WGN portion of their rights package.

We've discussed the TV rights deal here before; there's been no decision yet on where the WGN-TV portion of the contract is going, and it's unlikely that that part of the TV rights deal will generate any huge amount of annual income, not until after 2019, at least, when the Cubs can put the entire TV package on the market for a single bidder.

The problem there, of course, is that the current TV rights bubble could burst before then. The tale of the Dodgers not being able to get their new cable channel carried in many systems in the Los Angeles area is a cautionary tale for any team (hint: Cubs) thinking about starting their own TV network. You might say that the Cubs ought to try some sort of online streaming model. A fine idea, but it wouldn't work under MLB's current blackout rules. If the Cubs had their own online channel in 2014, it would not be available in the Chicago metro area. I think you can see why that wouldn't work.

(Also, despite reports the Cubs were going to announce a new radio deal by Opening Day -- the WGN radio contract also expires at the end of this year) -- that hasn't happened, either.)

Wittenmyer also notes:

Even [Theo] Epstein has repeatedly said the kids in the farm system won’t get this done themselves. And an accelerated competitive timeline would go a long way toward restoring annual attendance losses projected to cost $23 million in lost revenue this year alone.

I've noted here in recent days that the Kansas City Royals, who promoted several top prospects (Billy Butler, Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, Alex Gordon and Salvador Perez) to the major leagues over the last seven seasons, had to wait until 2013 for that core group to produce a winning season, and it does look like the Royals will be serious contenders this year.

You can be excited about Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Albert Almora and others. If you think I'm not excited about those players, you're incorrect. Just don't expect that Cubs core group to produce a playoff contender, or World Series winner, anytime soon.

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