(Corrects 6th paragraph in July 18 story to fix name of company to Inland Real Estate Group of Cos, which is privately held, from Inland Real Estate Corp, a public company)
By Ben Klayman and Megan Davies
CHICAGO/NEW YORK (Reuters) - The first bids for the storied Chicago Cubs baseball team and related assets were submitted on Friday in an auction that could fetch more than $1 billion, according to a source close to the process.
At least 10 potential owner groups have been approved by Major League Baseball to bid on the Cubs, as well as its home ballpark, Wrigley Field, and a stake in a sports TV network.
The source, who asked not to be identified because the sale process is continuing, submitted an indication of interest for all three assets.
Tribune Co, which owns the Cubs as well as the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times newspapers, is taking bids on any combination of the Cubs-related assets in an effort to maximize its return. It is selling the team and other assets to pay down billions of dollars of debt it took on when it went private in an $8.2 billion deal led by real estate magnate Sam Zell.
The media company failed to reach a deal to sell Wrigley Field to the state of Illinois.
The Chicago Sun Times reported on Thursday that 20 bids have been submitted for Wrigley Field alone, including one from Oak Brook, Illinois-based Inland Real Estate Group of Cos Inc, which operates shopping centers located mostly in the Midwest. An Inland spokesman declined to comment.
A second source familiar with the situation said at least 10 bids were expected for the three assets, and another 10 to 15 for Wrigley alone.
Cubs Chairman Crane Kenney referred questions to Tribune Co, which said its goal was the highest return.
“We have every intention of maximizing the value of the Cubs and the ballpark assets. It’s a great season to be marketing them,” Tribune spokesman Gary Weitman said in an e-mail, referring to the Cubs’ status as having the best record in the National League.
Bidders are anxious to take control of the team, which is aiming for its first World Series title since 1908. The Cubs are nationally recognized due to the team’s history as lovable losers and its national exposure on cable television.
“It’s a great franchise,” said Andrew Murstein, vice chairman of Sports Properties Acquisition Corp, which raised $215 million in January in an initial public offering. “Hopefully, people will think with their wallet and not with their heart.”
Murstein, a New York City taxi tycoon, said in a telephone interview that his group, which includes former baseball home run king Henry Aaron and former Republican vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp, submitted a bid for all three assets, as well as one for just the team and TV network stake.
“We’re not going to chase the deal,” Murstein said on Thursday evening. “With us, it’s not going to be an ego buy.”
Also expected to submit bids for the Cubs are John Canning Jr., chairman of Chicago-based private equity firm Madison Dearborn Partners; Internet billionaire Mark Cuban, owner of the National Basketball Association Dallas Mavericks; and the family of Joe Ricketts, the founder of Omaha, Nebraska-based TD Ameritrade Holding Corp.
Other expected bidders include a group headed by Michael Tokarz, chairman of Purchase, New York-based MVC Capital Inc; Don Levin, owner of the Chicago Wolves minor league hockey team; Rocco Landesman, president of Jujamcyn Theaters, which owns several Broadway theaters; 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.
Two other groups that have not been identified include hedge fund investors.
Four to five bidders are expected to make it to the next round of the auction, with binding proposals expected shortly after the end of the baseball season. The regular season ends in late September and playoffs could last into late October. The sale could close by year-end or very early next year.
Tribune plans to keep a 5 percent stake in the team in a deal that could save the company millions of dollars in taxes, a source has told Reuters.
Editing by Mark Porter and John Wallace