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Forbes: Cubs worth 160% more than Ricketts family paid in 2009

Three months after he committed $184 million to Jason Heyward (right), Forbes says chairman Tom Ricketts' Cubs are worth $2.2 billion.

SURPRISE, Ariz. – Odds-makers and Sports Illustrated aren’t the only prognosticators identifying rising fortunes for the Cubs this year.

Forbes, the finance publication that has analyzed and ranked MLB team valuations for nearly two decades, said the Cubs’ value has gone up 22 percent since last year to $2.2 billion, according to rankings released Wednesday.

That’s a 160-percent increase over the original $845 million purchase price in 2009.

That puts the Cubs fifth in MLB, behind the Yankees ($3.4 billion), Dodgers ($2.5 billion), Red Sox ($2.3 billion) and Giants ($2.25 billion).

Huge increases in television revenues across the game in recent years have raised industry values overall, with some markets benefitting disproportionately based on new local deals (the value of the Astros, for example, increased 38 percent based on local TV money, according to Forbes).

The average value on the Forbes’ list is $1.3 billion (up 7 percent from last year).

Revenue streams are a big part of the valuation equation, but so is debt and minority-shareholder investment (which raised the Cubs’ equity by about $150 million last year).

Bottom line: The value of the franchise is not necessarily a reflection of the team’s bottom-line spending ability. But it’s probably a good indication of where it’s headed.

Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts alluded to that when he spoke last month about the Cubs’ ability to sustain payroll growth that has reached a franchise record $149 million for this year’s opening roster.

“We’ve done a lot of great things on the business side of the equation, and we have more people in the park,” he said. “So that allows us more financial flexibility to bring in other guys.

“We’re comfortable with where our payroll is today, and can it go forward? Yeah.”

The Cubs have four years left of restrictions under the complicated, highly leveraged financing deal required by seller Sam Zell when the Ricketts family purchased the team in late 2009.

Terms on that expire about the time they expect to cash in on their own new-generation local TV deal, whether via traditional rights fees or their own network.

That figures to make 2017-19 the more critical window for squeezing enough revenue to sustain a payroll that might have to grow just to keep or adequately replace Jake Arrieta.

“To be able to have this kind of payroll with an old TV deal is pretty good,” Ricketts said. “Obviously, as we get toward that TV deal we should get even more financial flexibility.”