Ricketts family finalizes deal to buy Cubs

CHICAGO Fri Aug 21, 2009 6:34pm EDT

A view of Wrigley Field in Chicago April 2, 2007. REUTERS/John Gress

A view of Wrigley Field in Chicago April 2, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/John Gress

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CHICAGO (Reuters) - Media company Tribune Co has reached a deal to sell the Chicago Cubs baseball team and other assets to the Ricketts family for $845 million, Tribune said on Friday.

The Ricketts family will take a 95 percent stake in the Cubs franchise, Wrigley Field and Tribune's Interest in Comcast SportsNet. Tribune will retain a 5 percent ownership interest.

"Our family is thrilled to have reached an agreement to acquire a controlling interest in the Chicago Cubs, one of the most storied franchises in sports," Joe Ricketts said in a statement.

The deal still needs approval from Major League Baseball owners and the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware, which oversees Tribune's bankruptcy. A Major League Baseball spokesman did not immediately return Reuters phones calls and an email seeking comment.

Tribune, which owns the Los Angeles Times, filed for bankruptcy last December. The court is expected to rule on approval of the transaction early in the fourth quarter of 2009, Tribune said.

The company also said that as part of the court's approval process, the entity holding most of the assets of the Cubs franchise will voluntarily file for Chapter 11 protection so that the franchise can emerge free of Tribune Company's financial obligations.

"This joint venture will provide dedicated, local family ownership and management for the team," said Tribune Chairman Sam Zell in a statement.

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.

Tribune, which also owns the Chicago Tribune, put the Cubs, their home park of Wrigley Field and a stake in regional 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.

Analysts had originally expected the Cubs to draw bids topping $1 billion, but sports franchises' values have been hurt by the recession and tighter credit markets. Tribune bought the Cubs in 1981 for $20.5 million.

Tribune reached an agreement in January to sell the team and the other assets to Ricketts. However, negotiations for a final deal stalled as the parties argued over the value of Cubs' broadcast contracts.

Tribune then reopened talks with private equity investor Marc Utay after the exclusive negotiating period with Ricketts expired. Analysts saw the move as a way to pressure the banker, son of the founder of TD Ameritrade Holding Corp.

(Reporting by Ben Klayman and Kyle Peterson; Editing Bernard Orr)

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