Ricketts, Tribune reach deal for Cubs: source
CHICAGO (Reuters) - The Ricketts family has reached a deal to buy the storied Chicago Cubs baseball team from bankrupt media company Tribune Co for slightly less than the original $900 million bid, a source familiar with the deal said on Monday.
"There is a deal between the Ricketts and Tribune Co," said the source, who asked not to be identified because the agreement has not been announced.
Tribune, which has been trying to sell the team for more than two years to reduce the company's debt burden, declined to comment, and a Ricketts family spokesman also declined to comment.
The Ricketts family, led by Chicago investment banker Tom Ricketts, agreed in January to buy the team and other assets for $900 million.
"The terms are very similar," the source said. "It's slightly less than that."
The Rickettses' financing package had already been submitted to Major League Baseball, which now must review the final agreement. Seventy-five percent of the league's 30 owners must approve a deal and then the bankruptcy court must sign off before the Ricketts family can take control of the team.
The deal could close in August, although a later time frame is possible as the deal's terms will be presented to Tribune creditors to gain their support before the offer is officially submitted to the bankruptcy court, the source said. The court's approval process alone could take two to four weeks, bankruptcy attorneys have said.
The agreement still includes Tribune retaining a stake in the Cubs of up to 5 percent as a way to minimize its tax bill on the deal, the source said.
Sports franchises' values have been hurt by the recession and tighter credit markets. Analysts initially had expected the Cubs to draw bids topping $1 billion.
Buyers are eager to take control of the National League team, which despite not winning a World Series title since 1908 has a huge fan base helped by its "lovable losers" image and national exposure on cable TV.
A final deal had been held up by disagreements over the value of Cubs' broadcast contracts and other items, as well as the Rickettses' efforts to obtain financing.
Tribune Co filed for bankruptcy in December due to its heavy debt load and the weak U.S. publishing sector. It put the Cubs, the team's famous Wrigley Field home and a 25 percent stake in a local sports TV network on the block in April 2007, when Tribune agreed to an $8.2 billion buyout led by real estate magnate Sam Zell.
Last month, Tribune reopened talks with private equity investors Marc Utay and Leo Hindery in a move that some analysts saw as a way to pressure Ricketts, CEO of Chicago investment bank Incapital LLC and son of the founder of TD Ameritrade Holding Corp, into settling on terms desired by the media company.
Another team for sale, the Texas Rangers, is likely to put out financial data soon for potential buyers to peruse, according to a source familiar with that process. Bids of $550 million are likely, sports bankers and baseball officials said.
Rangers owner and Texas billionaire Tom Hicks hopes to have bids for the Rangers by mid-August, although negotiations and financing could result in a deal not closing until after the season, the source said.
Hicks said in May he was willing to sell control of the team. In April, creditors declared Hicks Sports Group, which owns the Rangers and Dallas Stars hockey team, in default on $525 million in loans.
(Reporting by Ben Klayman, editing by Matthew Lewis)
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