Sale of Chicago Cubs, Wrigley Field Edges Closer

The sale of the Chicago Cubs baseball team, along with storied Wrigley Field and a stake in SportsNet Chicago, a cable TV operation, could pass a milestone by the end of this month or early in October. Final bids for the Cubs and the other assets will be due by then, according to press reports, with five bidding groups still in the running. The Cubs are owned by Tribune Co., which is best known as the owner of the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times newspapers. In an effort to pay down debt, the parent company put the Cubs assets up for sale in April 2007. That same month, Chicago-based real estate billionaire Sam Zell announced that he intended to take the media company private at a total cost of more than $8 billion. That deal was completed in December 2007. This past June, Tribune Co. annouced that it was exploring “strategic options” for possibly selling the landmark Tribune Tower in Chicago and/or the headquarters of the Los Angeles Times. And two weeks ago, a CPN report questioned whether Zell might be overextended, with Tribune Co. carrying $12.5 billion in debt and facing a net loss of $4.5 billion because of declining ad revenues. The next step in the sale of the Cubs assets, according to a Reuters report, will be a series of presentations by Tribune Co. management over the next few weeks, after which final bids will be presented. Bidders still in contention reportedly include billionaire entrepreneur Mark Cuban, who already owns the Dallas Mavericks basketball team; Tom Ricketts, chief executive of Chicago investment bank Incapital LLC and son of the founder of TD Ameritrade; Marc Utay, a managing partner with New York–based Clarion Capital Partners LLC, a private equity firm; Chicago real estate executive Hersh Klaff; and a group consisting of investors and a non-Chicago person with sports experience. In addition, it’s reported that four real estate funds are separately attempting to buy just Wrigley Field. With a current seating capacity of just over 41,100, Wrigley Field is the fourth-smallest park in Major League Baseball. Built in 1914, it’s also the second-oldest, younger only than Boston’s Fenway Park, which was completed in 1912. Despite Wrigley’s age, the park has undergone steady evolution over the decades. The most recent major change was the expansion of the bleachers by almost 2,000 seats in 2005–06. The park’s history of upgrades notwithstanding, its name is nearly sacred to many Chicagoans. In January, in response to a Cubs fan’s letter saying that selling the naming rights to the stadium, which Zell has openly said is a very real possibility, “borders on blasphemy,” Cubs writer Carrie Muskat tried to keep things in perspective. She noted that chewing-gum magnate William Wrigley Jr. bought the Cubs in 1920 and in 1926 renamed Cubs Park as Wrigley Field in honor of himself and his company. “Not sure anyone in 1926 considered that blasphemy,” Muskat noted.