MLB says Tribune sets Dec. 1 deadline for Cubs bids

November 19, 2008

The Associated Press

NEW YORK – Bidders for the Cubs have until Dec. 1 to submit offers, Major League Baseball said Wednesday after a meeting of its ownership committee.

Bob DuPuy, baseball’s chief operating officer, said representatives of four bidders have met in New York in recent weeks with officials from the commissioner’s office, MLB’s Internet company and the sport’s new television network.

The team was put up for sale in April 2007 when Tribune Co., the Cubs’ owner, announced it was going private in a deal led by real estate developer Sam Zell. DuPuy said the latest deadline was set by the Tribune Co.

“Bids are expected the week after Thanksgiving,” DuPuy said. “Mr. Zell claims the team is for sale and they’re moving forward.”

The Tribune Co. declined comment, spokesman Gary Weitman said.

Given the current financial climate and the difficulty in raising capital, there has been widespread speculation that bidders are having trouble raising money for a purchase of the famously unsuccessful franchise, which hasn’t won the World Series in a century.

Baseball officials do not think Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has been part of the bidding process for months. Cuban was charged Monday by federal regulators with insider trading for allegedly using confidential information on a stock sale.

In other actions:

–MLB said it had ceased efforts to locate the MLB Network in Harlem and would keep the offices and studios are their temporary location in Secaucus, N.J.

–The sport adopted a budget with no increase for 2009, deferring unspecified projects because of the deteriorating economy.

–Discussions took place to formalize in the rules commissioner Bud Selig’s decision that postseason games cannot be shortened due to weather.

MLB took in a record $6.5 billion this year, but DuPuy said the economy had caused baseball to be cautious in its spending.

“No one wants to count any dollars before they actually come across the transom,” he said.

Of specific concern has been the Nov. 10 announcement by Deutsche Post AG, the German parent of DHL, that it will no longer offer U.S. domestic-only air and ground services as of Jan. 30. DHL sponsors MLB awards for relief pitchers, and the company has agreements with some individual teams.

“We’ve had very positive conversations. They’re staying in business obviously, they’re just shifting their emphasis internationally,” DuPuy said. “But obviously in this market we’re talking to all of our sponsors to make sure that we give them as much value as possible for their sponsorship dollars and try to keep them all in place.”

As for the network, a $435 million project with Vornado Realty Trust was announced in January to construct a 21-story office building in Harlem at Park Ave. and 125th St. Instead, baseball has decided to remain at the former MSNBC studios in Secaucus.

“The Harlem project ran into difficulty getting financing, developer financing,” DuPuy said. “There’s no activity on the Harlem project. At the moment, we’re very satisfied with the Secaucus facility. It’s a terrific facility and will serve our needs very well.”

Staffing at the network had doubled to about 120 over the past month, ahead of its January launch, and there will be about 155 employees when hiring is completed. Auditions are taking place this week for studio staff and next week for reporters. While the network originally contemplated broadcasting Saturday night games, DuPuy said discussions are ongoing to shift those to Thursday evenings.

DuPuy said talks also were underway on the issue of not shortening postseason games. Selig decided last month that Game 5 of the World Series wouldn’t be cut short by rain. While the game was suspended with the score tied after 5{ innings, Selig said if one team had been ahead when play was stopped, he would have presided over the longest rain delay in baseball history until weather allowed action to resume.

“The commissioner has indicated his intention of getting that done,” Selig said. “There are various approaches that could be taken, and we’re still working on the process.”

Approval of the players’ association might be necessary.

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