Tribune hopes to pick Cubs owner by year-end


CHICAGO -- Tribune Co. still hopes to pick the winning bidder for the storied Chicago Cubs Major League Baseball team by year-end, a source familiar with the sale process said Friday.

However, another source familiar with matter said that timeline was unlikely, as the sales process was moving slowly and could push into the next baseball season, which begins March 31.

When Tribune put the Cubs up for sale in April, it had hoped to sell the franchise before the end of the year in a process that analysts said could attract bids topping $1 billion.

When asked if a winning bidder could be chosen before the end of this year, the second source said: "Impossible. The (Cubs financial) book isn't out yet and we're heading into the holidays."

The Cubs are an icon due to their national television exposure, historic ballpark and history of being "lovable losers."

Officials with Tribune and Major League Baseball were not immediately available to comment.

The first source also said a sale would not likely close until early next year but held out hope of a bidder being named this year.

"Will something close by the end of the year? It's completely doubtful. The books haven't even gone out yet," the first source told Reuters, adding: "But I would think by the end of the year that a winner is going to be identified."

"Everyone has an interest in trying to get this closed as soon as possible, so I would hope it wouldn't go into spring training," the source added, referring to baseball's preseason that begins in February.

A story in the Friday edition of the Chicago Tribune, owned by Tribune Co, cited two highly placed baseball sources as saying the sale process could drag into next season, and only five groups had been approved by the U.S. sports league for the sale process.

The newspaper identified the approved bidders as a group led by John Canning Jr., chairman of private equity firm Madison Dearborn Partners; Mark Cuban, Internet billionaire and owner of the Dallas Mavericks National Basketball Association team; the partnership of attorney Thomas Mandler and Jim Anixter, president of electrical wire and cable maker A-Z Industries of Northbrook, Illinois; the family of Omaha, Nebraska-based TD Ameritrade Holding Corp's founder Joe Ricketts; and a group headed by MVC Capital Inc Chairman Michael Tokarz.

Reuters reported in July that the Cubs, the landmark Wrigley Field and a stake in sports cable TV network SportsNet Chicago had attracted credible interest from about 15 parties, with another 25 being sorted through. At the time, officials believed a winner could be identified in July and the deal closed by year end.

However, the first source described baseball's application process, in which the sport's officials check the finances of each bidder, as "time consuming."

To receive the confidential information about the Cubs needed to make an offer, a prospective bidder must fill out an application form that is evaluated by the sellers and submitted to Major League Baseball for approval.

The first source said Tribune is still open to the option of selling the assets separately if that would result in a better return.

Tribune, which is being taken private in an $8.2 billion deal led by real estate magnate Sam Zell, paid $20.5 million for the Cubs and Wrigley Field in 1981.