Friday, August 21, 2009Tribune to sell Cubs, Wrigley, to Ricketts family
Chicago -- Media conglomerate Tribune Co. announced a definitive agreement Friday to sell all but a 5 percent stake in the Chicago Cubs and Wrigley Field to the billionaire Ricketts family, capping a tortuous selection process that began nearly 2 1/2 years ago.
Tribune valued the transaction at about $845 million.
"Our family is thrilled to have reached an agreement to acquire a controlling interest in the Chicago Cubs, one of the most storied franchises in sports," said Joe Ricketts, who founded the Omaha, Neb.-based online brokerage TD Ameritrade Holding Corp. "The Cubs have the greatest fans in the world, and we count our family among them."
Tribune had announced on Opening Day in 2007 that the marquee baseball franchise and historic ballpark would be sold at the end of that season. But the process was slowed by CEO Sam Zell's efforts to maximize sale profits, including a failed attempt to sell Wrigley separately, along with the collapse of credit markets and Tribune's 2008 bankruptcy filing.
The Rickettses agreed when they were tentatively selected as the winning bidder last January to pay about $900 million for the team, Wrigley and a 25 percent stake in Comcast SportsNet Chicago, which broadcasts many Cubs games.
But that total was renegotiated, with Tribune retaining a small stake for legal reasons.The sale figure exceeds the record $660 million paid for the Boston Red Sox in 2002 by a group headed by John Henry, although that deal did not include a ballpark.
The Ricketts family bid was led by Tom Ricketts, 43, a Chicago investment banker and Joe Ricketts' son. He is a Cubs die-hard who grew up watching the team, once lived in an apartment above a bar across the street from Wrigley and first met his wife in the stands at a game.Major League Baseball still must approve the sale, but that is not expected to be an obstacle. The ownership change needs to be approved by three-quarters of the league's 30 owners.
Fans hope this will be the ownership that finally delivers a World Series title to baseball's "lovable losers," who are more than a century removed from their last championship."We look forward to closing the transaction so that we can begin leading the Cubs to a World Series title," Ricketts said.
Tribune purchased the Cubs from candy and chewing gum maker Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co. for $20.5 million in June 1981. Zell, a real estate mogul, engineered a takeover of Tribune in 2007 -- but may not be at the head of the company for long.
Randy Michaels, the company's chief operating officer, said in a note Thursday to employees that "the ownership structure of the company is likely to change."
That came amid reports that the company is expected to fold the Cubs and Wrigley into its eight-month-old bankruptcy, which originally excluded them, in order to expedite the sale. The Wall Street Journal, citing two people familiar with the matter, said Friday that Tribune's biggest lenders are likely to end up owning nearly all of the equity in a reorganized company.
Zell said in a statement that the joint ownership "will provide dedicated, local family ownership and management for the team. The Ricketts family will be a great steward of the franchise. They have a strong respect for the team, for the fans and for what the Cubs mean to the city of Chicago."