Cubs could have new owner soon

July 18, 2008 3:32:02 PM PDT
Time is up if you wanted to buy the Cubs. The deadline to submit bids was today.Now, the team's owner, Tribune company chief Sam Zell, must chose among the potential buyers.

No one close to the business deal would speak on the record Friday No one wants to say how much they would be willing to pay for either the Chicago cubs and or their storied home, Wrigley Field.

What is known is that Cubs owner Zell will likely accept the best monetary offer he gets in an auction that unofficially began Friday.

Cubs fan Sally Weiskopf was at Wrigley Field Friday to try to win a contest to sing at the Friendly Confines. She is, no doubt, hoping that new team and park owners will maintain the traditions of Wrigley Field and a franchise whose lack of championships on the field belie the strength of its connections to its fans.

But, since taking over the Cubs as part of his sweeping $8.2 billion purchase of the Tribune company earlier this year, Sam Zell has made it clear he is all about the bottom line.

"He wants money. He wants value for his assets," said Ann Saphir of Crain's Chicago Business.

At least 20 parties have expressed interest in buying Wrigley Field, at least ten want the baseball team and about the same number want both assets. Reports peg the total package at about $1billion. Zell has to pay off debt due later this year from the Tribune deal.

Sources say the top three bidders are likely John Canning, a Chicago financier with strong ties to baseball Commissioner Bud Zelig, given his minority interest in the Milwaukee Brewers, Tom Ricketts, head of Chicago-based financial company In-capital and the son of the founder of discount brokerage T.D Ameritrade, and Mark Cuban, internet billionaire and owner of the NBA's Dallas Mavericks.

All have said they are fans of the Cubs and would have varying degrees of support among major league baseball owners, who must approve any new ownership of the baseball team.

"You do want to be careful about who owns it, but that is not Sam Zell's problem. That's MLB's problem," Saphir said.

Splitting the team from the park will garner more bucks for Zell. But treating this as just a real estate venture is fraught with danger for whoever wins Zell's auction.

"You also have to think about it in terms of its magic. What Wrigley represents is the foundation of generations-long traditions, and it wouldn't take that much to preserve that face and fix the structure of the building at the same time," said strategist Rich Luker of Relay Worldwide.

The players in the deal are tight-lipped because, according to sources, people who speak about the process will be disqualified from the bidding by Major League Baseball.

With the Cubs enjoying an extraordinary year on the field, observers think Zell wants a deal sooner rather than later, but it is not likely to happen until after the world series, whether the Cubs are in it or not.

That first debt repayment is due December 4 for about $650 million, which happens to be what some reports suggest the Cubs alone are worth.


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