Bidding for Chicago Cubs may be near a conclusion -Tribune Co. could announce winner in week to 10 days

By Ameet Sachdev | Tribune reporter

January 6, 2009

Tribune Co., owner of the Chicago Cubs, is close to selecting a winning bid for the team from three finalists, according to people familiar with the sales talks.

The Chicago-based media conglomerate has been evaluating bids since the beginning of December and could make a decision within a week to 10 days, sources said. But one source cautioned that the process of narrowing the auction to one bidder still could be derailed, and Tribune Co. could pull the team and its landmark stadium off the market.

The company, which is controlled by Chicago real estate investor Sam Zell, also has not held firm to past deadlines. Zell had said he hoped to select a winning bidder by the end of 2008. A Tribune Co. spokesman declined to comment Monday night.

Once the winning bid is chosen, the deal is far from completion. Tribune Co. plans to enter into negotiations with the prospective buyer to work out a sale. Tight credit markets make it more difficult to obtain loans to finance a transaction that could approach $1 billion.

Three prospective buyers made offers for the franchise at the end of November: Chicago real estate investor Hersch Klaff; the Ricketts family, founders of online brokerage TD Ameritrade Holding Corp.; and a group led by Marc Utay, a New York private-equity investor who grew up in Chicago.

If the winning bidder is able to finalize a contract with Tribune Co., the buyer must be approved by three-quarters of baseball owners. It is also possible a bankruptcy court judge will have a say in the process, because Tribune Co. filed for Chapter 11 protection Dec. 8. The Cubs are not included in the filing, but the sale would generate proceeds for debtholders.

The three bidders emerged from a group of 10 that initially received permission from Major League Baseball to participate in an auction for a package of the Cubs, Wrigley Field and Tribune Co.’s stake in a regional cable sports network. Tribune Co. also owns the Chicago Tribune.

Zell announced in April 2007 that he was selling the team as part of his transaction to take Tribune Co. private in a heavily leveraged buyout.

The meltdown in the financial markets last fall further stalled the sales process, as questions arose about the bidders’ ability to raise money.

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