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Competitive team good for Cubs on and off field

CHICAGO -- Chicago Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein, the architect of Chicago's greatest rebuilding project since the Great Fire, is understandably very optimistic on the team's long-term future, as he explained once again in a news conference Tuesday.

But he's also excited for next year, and not just for another top 10 pick in the amateur draft.

With young talent maturing and some already reaching the majors, Epstein believes the Cubs' goal is to win in 2015, which differs greatly from the past three rebuilding seasons: Lose enough to get a top 10 draft pick and build up the farm system with depth.

That plan seems to have worked quite well. The Cubs' farm system is very highly regarded and fans in Chicago are starting to see the fruit of the front office's labor. The idea is that the Cubs will add some free-agent pitching and a few veteran hitters this offseason.

If the Cubs can be competitive next season, that would be great news for the team's bottom line, as TV ratings and attendance pale in comparison to the team's glory days in 2007-08. Money lost in declining attendance has hurt the team's rebuilding efforts.

And as the Cubs try to lock up a TV deal for around 70 games in 2015, their final 2014 cable ratings are in and they are bad.

Sports Business Journal put out its annual list of regional sports network baseball ratings (numbers from Nielsen) and the Cubs had the fifth-worst average rating in baseball with a 1.50 on CSN Chicago, down 6 percent from last year.

The end of the season showed a slight increase in ratings as young hitters Javier Baez and Jorge Soler came up. Through the first week of July, when the Jeff Samardzija deal went down, the Cubs were averaging a 1.48 rating/52,000 homes, according to SBJ and Nielsen.

Why are ratings important for the Cubs? They're trying to increase revenue in every way as the Ricketts family embarks on a self-financed $375 million renovation of Wrigley Field. They need to show cable distributors and advertisers that this is a viable product now, and not just in the future.

Epstein didn't sound too optimistic about getting his share of a bump in TV revenue before the Comcast Sports Net Chicago deal expires after the 2019 season. The WGN portion of the TV deal expired this season and the Cubs are reportedly still shopping those games.

As for attendance, the Cubs sold 2,652,113 tickets to Wrigley Field (an average of 32,742). It was their first increase in attendance since 2008, when they set a club record with 3,300,200 fans. While the Cubs added 9,431 tickets sold this season, compared to last, most of that came on the last game of the season. This year, the Cubs sold 7,121 more tickets to their home finale against the Cardinals than in 2013 against the Pirates.

On the South Side, the Paul Konerko Farewell Tour didn't quite rally a flagging fan base.

The White Sox finished with the third-worst average rating, 1.15, actually up 4 percent and ahead of only the Dodgers and Astros, both of whom have severe distribution problems that limit their games in their market.

Sox ratings fell after the first week of July, when the team had a 1.39 rating/49,000 homes.

White Sox attendance plummeted to an average of 20,896, and 1,650,821 total. It was their worst attendance numbers since 1999. While the league attendance average was just more than 30,000 tickets sold, the White Sox drew crowds of more than 30,000 just six times: Opening Day, two Yankees games, the July 4 game and Konerko's last two home games.