Sale of Cubs, Wrigley complete

October 27, 2009 4:43:30 PM PDT
The $845 million sale of the Chicago Cubs, Wrigley Field and other assets from the Tribune Co. to the Ricketts family was completed Tuesday, more than 2 1/2 years after the baseball franchise was put on the market. The family of billionaire Joe Ricketts, the founder of Omaha, Neb.-based TD Ameritrade, takes a 95 percent controlling interest in the baseball franchise, its storied ballpark and 25 percent of Comcast Sportsnet, which broadcasts many Cubs games.

After taxes and fees, Chicago-based Tribune, which owns the Chicago Tribune, Los Angles Times, other newspapers and TV stations, expects to reap about $740 million from the deal. Family members Pete, Tom, Laura and Todd Ricketts will control the team as its board of directors, though Tribune retains a 5 percent stake and will have a seat on the board.

The deal tops the record $660 million paid for the Boston Red Sox and its related properties in 2002.

Tom Ricketts, 44, who will serve as board chairman, said it was time to "go to work building the championship tradition that all Cubs fans so richly deserve." The Cubs have not been to the World Series since 1945 and have not won it since the second of back-to-back championships in 1908.

Tom Ricketts grew up watching the team and even met his wife in the bleachers. The Ricketts family is part of the exclusive club of Major League baseball owners, something Cubs fans welcome.

"I think maybe finally we'll get a little direction here and free up a little free agency money for something, but most of all it's stability the team desperately needs," said Alan Fabris, Cubs fan.

"It's been 100 years and they seem like nice people and people who are Cub fans. So it can only be positive," said Ned Lufrano, Cubs fan.

The Ricketts family bought the team from the Tribune Company while Tribune was willing to spend money on players, senior ESPN writer Lester Munson believes the team has a better chance of winning with the Ricketts.

"They are baseball fans from what we know. They have money, lots of money, and they seem to have all the right interests and the right ideas when it comes to running a Major League baseball team," said Munson.

And many fans are hopeful the Ricketts family will spend the money to get the job done.

"To get some players and a World Series before I die," said Marylou, Cubs fan.

"The Yankees are an excellent team and maybe that is what we need to do here apparently," said Bennett Mayer, Cubs fan.

But does a big payroll mean higher ticket prices or drastic changes to Wrigley Field like advertising or a jumbotron.

"We need a home run hitter more than a jumbotron," said Howard Blair, Cubs fan.

Lester Munson says the Ricketts family is likely to leave Wrigley alone with the exception of some much needed repairs to the friendly confines.

"I don't see the kind of advertising and the kind of commercial activity you see in other ballparks. I think it will remain its own pristine and beautiful place with some new things going on among the fans," said Munson.

As for ticket prices, fans believe that the Ricketts family will go the route of the Chicago Bears and hand out personal seat licenses although they may use creative ways to pick up revenue within Wrigley Field.

The Ricketts family plans to hold a press conference at Wrigley Field at 11:00 in the morning.

Tribune bought the Cubs in 1981 for $20.5 million from candy maker Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co.

The company 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 profits, the collapse of the credit markets and Tribune's 2008 bankruptcy filing.

Tribune filed for bankruptcy protection last December and the Cubs followed suit a few weeks ago, a short stay intended simply to protect its new owners from potential claims by Tribune creditors.

The Ricketts family sold 34 million Ameritrade shares earlier this year to raise $403 million for the Cubs deal, but still controls about 16 percent of the company's stock and two board seats.

Tom Ricketts was a market maker at the Chicago Board Options Exchange and finance executive before starting investment bank Incapital LLC in 1999. A Chicago investment banker, he is a Cubs die-hard who grew up watching the team, once lived in an apartment across the street from Wrigley and first met his wife in the stands at a game there.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Load Comments