Tribune Co., the bankrupt media company run by Sam Zell, favors selling the Chicago Cubs to investment banker Tom Ricketts, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
Ricketts, chairman of Incapital LLC in Chicago, was selected from among three finalists bidding for the baseball team, the newspaper said, citing an unidentified person familiar with the process.
It said Ricketts is believed to have offered Tribune around $900 million.
Tribune and Ricketts will discuss terms of the sale of the Cubs, Wrigley Field and a stake in a regional sports network. Ricketts must still secure financing and win approval from Major League Baseball’s owners before completing the sale.
Ricketts and Tribune spokesman Gary Weitman declined to comment on the report. Major League Baseball spokesman Richard Levin said in a telephone interview that he had heard nothing about the transaction.
Tribune’s bankruptcy and a tightening credit market depressed the value of Cubs-related assets. The team, stadium and cable properties could have gone for $1 billion when the sale was announced almost two years ago, according to sports bankers.
Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, offered $1.3 billion in July, according to Comcast SportsNet Chicago, the cable network that is part of the sale. By December, bids had fallen as low as $850 million, according to a person familiar with the process.
The most paid for a major-league team was the $700 million John Henry put up for the Boston Red Sox, Fenway Park and most of the New England Sports Network in 2002.
Tribune selected Ricketts, whose father founded TD Ameritrade Holding Corp., over Marc Utay of private-equity firm Clarion Capital Partners LLC and real-estate executive Hersch Klaff. The publisher of the Los Angeles Times began the process of selling the team in April 2007 to pay down debt.
Almost $13 billion in debt and a deteriorating advertising market caused Tribune to seek protection from creditors on Dec. 8, less than a year after Zell took the company private. The team and Wrigley Field weren’t included in the bankruptcy filing.
The Cubs are one of the most popular franchises in baseball, drawing more than 3 million spectators to their 95- year-old stadium in each of the past five seasons. Fans pile into Wrigley Field, on the north side of Chicago, to root for a squad that hasn’t won a World Series in 100 years, the longest drought in baseball. The team hasn’t even reached the championship round since 1945.
Chicago had the best record in the National League last season, only to get swept in the first round of the playoffs by the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Ricketts, who met his wife at Wrigley Field, grew up in Omaha, Nebraska, and attended the University of Chicago. The 43- year-old worked as a trader at the Chicago Board Options Exchange and attended classes at night to earn a graduate business degree in 1993.
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