Sold! Cubs Find an Owner

Club now to enter exclusive bidding period, sale not near completion

The billionaire Ricketts family has been selected by Tribune Co. as the winning bidder for the hard-luck Chicago Cubs.

The family said in a statement Thursday night that it's looking forward to working with the Tribune and Major League Baseball to close the transaction promptly.

"My family and I are Cubs fans," said Tom Ricketts, the family’s point person in the Cubs purchase. "We share the goal of Cubs fans everywhere to win a World Series and build the consistent championship tradition that the fans deserve."

The bid is worth about $900 million, according to the Web site of the Chicago Tribune, which also is owned by Tribune Co. The sale would include Wrigley Field and a 25 percent interest in a regional sports network, the newspaper reported.

The selection of Ricketts, a member of the founding family of TD Ameritrade Holding Corp., and chief executive of InCapital LLC, was first reported by the Chicago Sun-Times' Web site.

The Cubs selected their final bidder Wednesday but the Tribune Company's investment bank, J.P. Morgan Chase, removed the names from the bids and simply referred to them by number. So the owner of the winning bid was unknown until Thursday evening.

Tribune Co. purchased the Cubs from Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co. for $20.5 million in June 1981. It put the team on the market on opening day 2007, when real estate mogul Sam Zell agreed to buy Tribune Co.

Cubs chairman Crane Kenney said last week that the team hopes to have a new owner in place by opening day, April 6, but many steps must happen before a sale can be completed.

"Obviously these final negotiations are key, but my client is, as the statement indicates, pretty optimistic," Culloton said.

Ricketts must reach an agreement with Tribune Co., which filed for bankruptcy protection last month. While the Cubs and Wrigley Field were not included in the bankruptcy filing, a sale likely will have to be approved by the creditors' committee.

In addition, a sale must be approved by baseball owners.

Major League Baseball had not been informed by Tribune Co. of the winning bidder as of Thursday evening, a baseball official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because discussions between the team and MLB are not made public.

Other finalists in the bidding included Hersch Klaff, who owns a Chicago commercial real estate firm, and a partnership between two New Yorkers involved in private equity, Marc Utay of Clarion Capital and Leo Hindery Jr. of InterMedia Partners.

Tom Ricketts grew up watching the Cubs on WGN, once lived in an apartment above a bar across the street from Wrigley Field, and met his wife in the bleachers at a Cubs game. His father, J. Joe Ricketts, founded Ameritrade and became a leading online stockbroker, but Tom never worked for that company.

He was a market maker at the Chicago Board Options Exchange and finance executive before starting investment bank Incapital LLC.

If the deal is approved, the Ricketts would acquire a team that hasn't won the World Series since 1908 and hasn't even made it to the Fall Classic since 1945. While the Cubs won the NL Central in each of the last two seasons, they were swept in the first round of the playoffs both times.

Tribune Co. considered selling the team and the famous ballpark separately but rejected a plan from the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority to purchase the ivy-walled stadium. Kenney said recently the two would be sold together.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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