Buyers question value of Wrigley

June 26, 2008

BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter/

The Tribune Co. has pushed back the deadline for interested buyers to bid on the Cubs, Wrigley Field or both amid questions about the opportunity for continued revenue growth at the 94-year-old shrine of Major League Baseball.

The date for offers has been pushed back from July 9 to July 31 to give the Cubs a chance to respond to questions about optimistic revenue assumptions in the 300-page book distributed to rival bidders.

Over the last five years, the Cubs have nearly doubled Wrigley revenues by following an aggressive game plan that’s only halfway home.

The roadmap includes adding 12 more night games, 1,791 bleacher seats and premium seats behind home plate and along the first- and third-base lines; increasing ballpark signage and entering into limited sponsorship agreements that include the Bud Light Bleachers, Von Kampen tarp, Under Armour outfield doors and auctioned off seats sponsored by the Chicago Board Options Exchange.

Wrigley Field now has a Batter’s Eye party room in centerfield. The stadium has been opened up to outdoor concerts, weddings, corporate events and tour groups on non-game days. And the Cubs now compete with private ticket brokers and share profits with rooftop clubs.

Bid books reportedly assume the gravy train will continue and spell out how it can be done — with or without a $400 million Wrigley renovation that could add luxury skyboxes and up to 1,000 additional seats.

They also assume that the growth will be enough to support an annual lease payment of $25 million if the stadium and the team are sold to separate groups.

Several bidders are not so sure. And if they’re not made comfortable, Tribune Co. CEO Sam Zell won’t get top dollar for his prized assets, which includes the Trib’s share of Comcast SportsNet.

On Wednesday, sources described Zell as “completely agnostic” about selling the Cubs and Wrigley as a package or separately.

“He’ll see whether, by mixing and matching, he gets more than selling the whole thing to one person. All he cares about is gross proceeds,” one source said.

Heated competition for the Cubs includes an investment group led by John Canning Jr., chairman of Madison Dearborn Partners LLC, and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, whose interest the Cubs have encouraged.

The team-ballpark package could be worth $1 billion. The closed fraternity of baseball owners must approve the deal. That could set the stage for a confrontation with Zell if Cuban — or anyone else — outbids the Canning group, believed to have the inside track with Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig.

http://www.suntimes.com



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