5 bidders make final cut to buy Cubs

July 24, 2008 6:42:45 PM PDT
Tribune Company owner Sam Zell appears to be of the same mindset of Cuba Gooding Jr's character in "Jerry McGuire," essentially saying to those who want to buy this ball club: "show me the money!"And those who didn't offer top dollar have just been picked off.

It's all about the Benjamins - $5 for a program, $26 for an uppder deck seat

How about $1 billion for the team, the field, everything that encompasses the Cubs?

"It is unbelievable what they charge for tickets and beers. They will probably sell it for $2 billion," said Steve Kouba, Cubs fan.

"Zell is a total outsider to baseball. I'm not sure the man has ever even been to a game. He has no interest. This is a pure money play for him," said Lester Munson , ESPN.

There was word Thursday that current Cubs' owner, Tribune Company skippered by Zell, has winnowed the field of buyers down to a final five.

The Associated Press reports those still in the lineup include Mavericks' owner Mark Cuban, the Ricketts family and a group led by the Sports Acquisition Holding Corporation that includes Hank Aaron and former Congressman Jack Kemp.

The report identities of the two other finalists still aren't known.

Published reports say a Chicago group led by Madison-Dearborn Partners' CEO John Canning didn't make the short list, neither did the owner of the Chicago Wolves hockey team.

"I am stunned that they are not in the final group of five bidders. I think all of us who are sports reporters and Cubs fans thought that he would be the leader," said Munson.

Zell and his company need cash, and they need it soon. Forbes Magazine puts the value of the Cubs team alone at $642 million.

The highest price ever paid for a Major League ball club was the $700 million paid for the Red Sox in 2002.

But more analysts now predict the Cubs, Wrigley Field and a 25 percent stake in Comcast SportsNet will fetch more than a billion dollars.

Many fans are hoping for a hometown owner. Others think this storied franchise needs a fresh face.

"Someone like Mark Cuban will add a little spice," said ake White, Cubs fan.

The Associated Press says Zell will not allow those who struck out Thursday to get back into the ball game by simply increasing their offering price. Those involved in the process have signed confidentially agreements preventing them commenting. Tribune is expected to select a buyer this fall.

Several bidders offering between $700 million and $900 million for all the properties have been excluded from the second round, according to an AP source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of nondisclosure agreements governing all talk about the bids.

A Tribune spokeswoman said the baseball team would not have any comment on the status of the sale, which also includes the team's minority stake in a Chicago regional sports TV network.

One person involved in the bidding provided to The Associated Press an outline of the conditions for the second round.

Canning is a minority owner of the Milwaukee Brewers and close friends with Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig. Any successful sale must be approved by three-quarters of the owners of other major league teams.

The bidders still in the running will get more detailed financial information on the Cubs, Wrigley and the sports network before they are required to submit a new proposal.

The Cubs -- lovable losers who haven't won a World Series in 100 years -- are expected to fetch more than the record $660 million paid for the Red Sox in 2002 by a group headed by billionaire commodities trader John Henry.

Tribune paid $20.5 million for the team in 1981. It is now seeking to sell the team and its stadium to help pay off the $8.2 billion cost of going private last year.

The value of Wrigley Field apparently has been harder to quantify, since it may require hundreds of millions of dollars in renovations.

The state-run Illinois Sports Facilities Authority offered about $400 million to buy Wrigley using taxable bonds that would be repaid with lease revenue. Those talks broke down in May over how the ISFA would finance renovations and improvements at Wrigley, the second-oldest ballpark in the country behind Boston's Fenway Park.

Former Gov. Jim Thompson, who is chairman of ISFA, said his agency estimated the cost of improving the stadium structure and the player and fan amenities between $400 million and $600 million.

Tribune has said it is willing to sell the properties individually.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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