In 1981, the Tribune Co. purchased the Cubs for $21 million dollars, or approximately $94 million in today's dollars (accounting for inflation). Forbes valuates MLB clubs every April, and by their calculations, the “Loveable Losers” were valued at $448 million—a 12% increase in value from the year prior—ranking them the fifth most valuable club in all of MLB at the beginning of the 2006 season, behind only the Dodgers, Mets, Red Sox, and Yankees. In recent history, the Cubs have been a climbing to the top of the industry finanancially.
Yet, during the period of Tribune ownership, the Cubs have amassed a weak .476 winning percentage, having only won the Division three times, finished second once, third three times, with a heavy dose of fourth-, fifth- and sixth-place gutterballs to round out the 25-year stretch. Yet, as I mentioned at the beginning of this article, the Cubs fly in the face conventional wisdom, because despite the losing, the Cubs continue to be a popular draw
While the team was posting a .476 winning percentage over the entirety of Tribune ownership, Wrigley has been at 73 percent of capacity, and that's getting better of late. For the past decade, they have averaged 2,769,503 fans, or 87 percent of capacity, while posting a .473 winning percentage. Since 2000 they have averaged 2,945,438 fans annually, or a stunning 93% of capacity while holding a .478 winning percentage. Since 2004, the Cubs have drawn over three million fans per season, running at 100.61%, 98.38% and 93.77% of capacity. Last year's percentage of capacity was especially impressive, as the seating capacity of Wrigley was bumped up to 41,118 and the club posted the aforementioned train wreck of a season.
Valuing the Cubs Against Recent Sales
While Forbes values the Cubs at $448 million, the recent sale of the Washington Nationals and the pending sale of the Atlanta Braves will most assuredly push the value of the Cubs higher. The Nationals recently sold for $450 million, and by all indications, the Braves will be sold by Time Warner to Liberty Media for approximately $600 million. Despite the losing, the Cubs are a solid investment for two primary reasons: Wrigley Field and superstation WGN (if acquired in conjunction with the club). The Cubs have incredible resilience compared to other franchises in the sense that they are almost exclusively unaffected by continually losing. They have incredible fan loyalty nationwide, and are ranked behind only the Yankees, Red Sox and Braves in brand recognition. In part, this is the benefit of cultivating a nationwide fan base through WGN’s longevity as a superstation. Given these factors, and in anticipation of continued revenue growth, the Cubs could fetch $600-$650 million as a stand-alone sale.