Tribune trims list of Cubs bidders: sources

CHICAGO Thu Jul 24, 2008 10:23am EDT

Chicago Cubs manager Lou Piniella adjusts his cap during the eighth inning of their interleague baseball game against the Tampa Bay Rays in St. Petersburg, Florida June 17, 2008. REUTERS/Scott Audette

Chicago Cubs manager Lou Piniella adjusts his cap during the eighth inning of their interleague baseball game against the Tampa Bay Rays in St. Petersburg, Florida June 17, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Scott Audette

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Tribune Co on Wednesday narrowed the potential list of bidders for the storied Chicago Cubs baseball team to 3-5 groups bidding $1 billion or more, according to sources briefed on the matter.

Of the 10 groups approved to bid for the Cubs by Major League Baseball, only those that bid $1 billion or more for the team, its home ballpark Wrigley Field and a stake in a regional sports TV network advanced to the next round, said two sources, who asked not to be identified because the process is ongoing.

While Tribune and baseball officials declined to comment, three sources said Internet billionaire Mark Cuban, owner of the National Basketball Association Dallas Mavericks; and a publicly held group led by New York City taxi tycoon Andrew Murstein were among those advancing.

Others advancing included Tom Ricketts, chief executive of Incapital LLC, a Chicago securities and investment banking firm, and son of the founder of TD Ameritrade Holding Corp; and a group headed by Michael Tokarz, chairman of MVC Capital Inc, one of the sources said. The Tokarz group includes Fred Malek, who previously bid on the baseball team in Washington.

Murstein's group, Sports Properties Acquisition Corp, also is teaming up with another of the approved bidder groups, according to one of the sources, who declined to identify the group.

Among those eliminated was John Canning Jr., chairman of Chicago private equity firm Madison Dearborn Partners, one of the sources said. He was an early favorite to win the bidding because of his close ties to baseball commissioner Bud Selig.

Canning declined to comment.

Don Levin, owner of the Chicago Wolves minor league hockey team, also confirmed he had been eliminated from the process after bidding under $1 billion.

"What they said to me was that other people were in a completely different zip code," he said of the bidding.

Tribune Co, which owns the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times newspapers, is selling the Cubs and the other assets in order to cut debt it took on when it went private in an $8.2 billion deal led by real estate magnate Sam Zell.

In addition, an undetermined number of groups are bidding just for Wrigley Field, which Zell previously tried to sell to the state of Illinois, said one of the sources. The bids for that asset ranged from $250 million to $400 million.

Bidders are anxious to take control of the team, which is in first place in its division and in contention for its first World Series title since 1908. The Cubs are nationally recognized due to its history as lovable losers and its national exposure on cable television.

The initial first-bid deadline, when groups submitted indications of interest, was on July 18.

A source said the advancing groups will see the Cubs' detailed financial data next, and then receive a management presentation in 2-3 weeks before final bids are accepted and a winner selected. Baseball team owners must approve the winner before a deal can be finalized.

Other groups that submitted bids included Hersch Klaff, president of Klaff Realty, a Chicago real estate investment company; and a group that includes Leo Hindery, who runs private equity firm InterMedia Partners and previously ran Yes Network, the TV channel of the New York Yankees baseball team, and AT&T Broadband.

Another potential bidder was Rocco Landesman, president of Jujamcyn Theaters, which owns several Broadway theaters.

(Editing by Ian Geoghegan)

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