Final Chicago Cubs bids likely in weeks-sources

Fri Sep 5, 2008 9:20am EDT

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By Megan Davies and Ben Klayman

NEW YORK/CHICAGO, Sept 4 (Reuters) - Final bids for the Chicago Cubs will likely be due late September or early October, two sources said on Thursday, as owner Tribune Co seeks to sell the storied baseball team by the year end.

The next stage in the drawn-out sale of the team, its landmark stadium and a cable TV network stake will be management presentations starting next week to give bidders more information on the assets, the sources said.

Those will likely take about two weeks, after which final bids will be sought.

Tribune, which owns the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times newspapers, put the Cubs assets on the block in April 2007 when it announced it would be bought by a group led by real estate magnate Sam Zell. It is selling the Cubs to cut debt it took on as a result of the leveraged buyout.

Zell said last month that of 10 groups that bid, five made it through the first round for the package of assets -- the Cubs, Wrigley Field and an interest in SportsNet Chicago.

Sources said those five include Tom Ricketts, chief executive of Chicago investment bank Incapital LLC and son of the founder of TD Ameritrade Holding Corp (AMTD.O); Internet billionaire Mark Cuban; Marc Utay, a managing partner with New York-based private equity firm Clarion Capital Partners LLC; and Chicago real estate executive Hersh Klaff.

However, a group composed of Republican operative Fred Malek and MVC Capital Inc (MVC.N) Chairman Michael Tokarz was not one of the five remaining, according to one of the sources and a third separate source.

That group was previously said to be among the final handful. Sports Properties Acquisition Corp HMR.A, which had been linked to the Malek group, is now in talks to possibly join the Cuban or Klaff groups, said a fourth source.

The fifth bidding group is made up of a non-Chicago person with sports experience and backing from wealthy investors, one of the sources said.

Four separate bidders -- all real estate funds -- are vying to buy just Wrigley Field alone, sources said.

LONG PROCESS

It was originally hoped that a bidder for the team, an icon due to its national TV exposure and a history of being "lovable losers," would be picked in 2007, but the process has taken longer than expected.

A year ago, sellers were sorting through tens of potential bidders. Those were shaken out by a long process under which each had to fill out an application form that was evaluated by sellers and submitted to Major League Baseball for approval.

Last month, 10 groups bid for the assets, and the number has now been reduced to five.

Once final bids are in, a winner will be picked and then must be ratified by the owners of the other 29 baseball teams. That could take one or two months, the sources said, meaning the Cubs would have a new owner by around the year end.

It has been a dramatic year for the team, both on and off the field.

The Cubs sit atop the National League's Central Division, and have the best record in the 16-team league with a little more than three weeks left in the regular season.

They have not won a pennant since 1945, and have gone 100 years since winning baseball's World Series. (Additional reporting by Jon Stempel and Robert Macmillan in New York; Editing by Braden Reddall)

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