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TV deal could show Cubs the money

Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts has his eye revenue from regional televisirights. “It seems like it’s factor theveryone has look when

Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts has his eye on revenue from regional television rights. “It seems like it’s a factor that everyone has to look at when you’re looking at financial resources,” he said. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Time

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Updated: March 27, 2012 8:28AM

MESA, Ariz. — If you’re looking for a face to put on the Cubs’ next big free-agent shopping spree, forget chairman Tom Ricketts and president Theo Epstein. Think Tom Skilling.

For all the talk about stadium renovations and triangle buildings, the revenue gold mine in baseball has become regional television rights.

That could make WGN and Comcast SportsNet bigger players in the Cubs’ efforts to end their title drought than Epstein.

That’s if the Cubs can tap into the trend soon enough and effectively enough to keep some of their middle-class-revenue rivals from using the same source to close the gap on them.

‘‘We’re looking at it, but we’re not sure exactly when,’’ Ricketts said Friday during a brief visit to Fitch Park.

Sources say the Cubs expect to begin discussions with WGN at the end of this year on a contract set to expire after the 2014 season. Executives considered the deal below market value before the recent boom. The team’s contract with CSN, which broadcasts roughly half the games, runs through 2019.

For now, the Cubs are spectators as the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels underwrite massive free-agent commitments to Yu Darvish, Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson with recently signed 20-year local TV deals reported to be worth $150 million per year (the Angels’ deal is said to be just over that).

In the case of the Angels — who announced their deal with Fox Sports West within days of the 10-year agreement with Pujols — the entire $317 million commitment to Pujols and Wilson is covered by roughly two years of the value of their TV deal.

It’s believed the Cubs receive about $45 million annually for TV rights on their WGN and CSN deals combined.

‘‘You just have to know it’s part of the game right now,’’ Ricketts said. ‘‘It seems like it’s a factor that everyone has to look at when you’re looking at the financial resources that a team has. Good for those guys. I’m glad they’re in the American League.’’

Don’t look now, but the National League’s small-market San Diego Padres reportedly have agreed on a 20-year local TV deal worth $75 million a year. If the Los Angeles Dodgers don’t extend a deal that expires after next season, they’re poised to jump from $46 million a year to well past the Angels with Time Warner Cable said to be waiting to pounce.

The Philadelphia Phillies — who boast a regional TV audience second only to the New York Yankees — could be worth more than any available team when their current rights deal runs out after the 2015 season.

It’s unclear how complicated the Cubs’ path to leveraging similar riches will be made by the White Sox’ agreements with WGN and CSN or Jerry Reinsdorf’s disproportionate influence at CSN through his dual stakes in the Sox and Bulls. It’s even harder to predict what the options might look like in an evolving local media landscape by the time either of the Cubs’ contracts expires.

What seems certain is that the Cubs’ ability to scout and develop their next local TV deal has greater potential for defining this era — and maybe even getting that elusive World Series championship — than any Dominican academy or crop of toolsy character guys in the next draft.

As Arizona Diamondbacks president Derrick Hall told USA Today’s Bob Nightengale: ‘‘It’s the biggest game-changer a lot of us have ever seen.’’

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