Tribune set to sell Cubs

Newsday fate undecided

NEW YORK -- Tribune Co. could start shopping the Chicago Cubs baseball team in as little as 10 days, but has not decided if it should unload the Newsday daily newspaper, Chief Executive Sam Zell said on Thursday.

"We expect the process to actually begin in 10 days to two- and-a-half weeks or something like that," Zell said on a conference call with the company's lenders. "We would expect and look forward to a Cubs transaction sometime this year."

The newspaper publisher and broadcaster, which went private in an $8.2 billion buyout led by the Chicago real estate mogul last year, is considering selling some of its properties to help pay down billions of dollars in debt it took on as part of the deal.

Selling the Cubs has been part of Tribune's plan all along, but the process slowed because of complications surrounding Zell's desire to sell the team separately from Wrigley Field.

More than 12 bidders have been approached by Major League Baseball to view the financial documents when they are released, but sources previously told Reuters this would not happen until talks about selling Wrigley Field to the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority are resolved.

"We're simultaneously running with a book on the Cubs going both ways, with or without the sports authority," Zell said.

Separately, "a number of parties" are interested in buying Newsday, but Tribune has reached no conclusions.

"We're discussing whether or not it does or doesn't make sense for us and for the Tribune Co going forward," he said.

Newsday has attracted interest from News Corp. Chief Executive Rupert Murdoch, who also owns the Wall Street Journal and New York Post. Mortimer Zuckerman, who publishes the Post's tabloid rival the New York Daily News, also is interested in buying the paper.

Zell initially planned to keep Tribune together, not counting the sale of the Cubs, Wrigley field and some other assets, but that changed amid big declines in print newspaper advertising.

Tribune faces the possibility of defaulting on its debt if it does not sell more properties. The company also publishes the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune and the Hartford Courant, owns a 31% stake in the Food Network with EW Scripps Co and has interests in websites such as jobs site Careerbuilder.com.

Zell meanwhile has been busy trying to overhaul employee morale at Tribune, where staff cuts have sapped morale at a time when the company expects double-digit declines in print advertising in the current quarter.

"We have raised the bar against which success will be measured," Zell said. "Employees are starting to take initiative -- something that has never happened before -- in launching revenue-generating programs."
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