* Ricketts supported by Tribune creditors - source
* Group now gets right to finalize terms to buy team
* Rival bidders could still up their offers
* Ricketts offer includes more cash up front than Utay’s (Updates that Ricketts has been selected, source says, paragraph 1; adds details)
By Megan Davies and Ben Klayman
NEW YORK/CHICAGO, Jan 22 (Reuters) - Tribune Co has selected Tom Ricketts, the head of a Chicago investment bank, as the lead bidder for the Chicago Cubs baseball team, after receiving support from the bankrupt media firm’s creditors, a source familiar with the sales process said.
Ricketts’ group will now get the right to finalize terms of an agreement to buy the storied team, known as the “lovable losers.”
The process may not be over, however, as rival bidders could still choose to raise their bids. That means a group led by Marc Utay, a managing partner with New York-based private equity firm Clarion Capital Partners LLC, may still have a chance.
The sale would need approval from Major League Baseball team owners.
Earlier in the day, Tribune’s creditors blessed Rickett’s bid, another source, familiar with the committee’s key meeting, said.
The bids by Ricketts and Utay both valued the club at around $1 billion, including about $800 million in cash, said two sources familiar with the process.
Ricketts lived across from the Cubs’ home park of Wrigley Field — also a part of the sale along with a stake in a cable TV network — while attending college and met his wife in the bleacher seats there. He is chief executive of Incapital LLC and the son of the founder of TD Ameritrade Holding Corp (AMTD.O).
Tribune had wrestled with the differences in the bids submitted by Ricketts and Utay, whose group includes Leo Hindery, who heads a private equity firm and previously ran YES Network, the TV channel of the New York Yankees baseball team, three sources familiar with the process said.
Ricketts’ bid had a “modest” amount more cash up front, while Utay’s offered a slightly higher overall value, the first source said. The collateral for Ricketts’ borrowings is TD Ameritrade securities, the source said.
A bid by Chicago real estate executive Hersh Klaff had fallen behind the other two, sources said.
Tribune officials and a spokesman for the attorneys representing the creditors declined to comment, as did Utay and Ricketts. Klaff could not be reached.
Tribune filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last month due to its heavy debt load and the weak U.S. publishing sector. It put the Cubs on the block in April 2007, when Tribune agreed to an $8.2 billion buyout led by real estate magnate Sam Zell.
Bidders are anxious to take control of the team, which has not won a World Series title since 1908 but has wide appeal due to its history and its national exposure on cable TV.
While the Cubs are not part of the bankruptcy, creditors must sign off on the deal because they will receive any proceeds. When Tribune first put the Cubs up for sale, analysts had said it could receive offers approaching $1.3 billion.
Summaries of the three bids were submitted to the Tribune’s unsecured creditors’ committee, which met in New York on Thursday to discuss several matters including the Cubs, two sources said.
Approval from the creditors is expected by the end of the week and the aim is for Tribune, which owns the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times newspapers, to be negotiating with just one party by Monday, the first source said.
Tribune has not submitted a winning bidder for approval by Major League Baseball, said a fourth source familiar with the process who asked not to be identified. An MLB spokesman referred questions to Tribune.
Any winning bidder will need 75 percent of the 30 team owners to approve the deal and that process can take up to two months as baseball officials investigate the potential new owner and the financial structure of the offer.
Tribune aims to negotiate final terms with a winning bidder before early February and possibly have a new owner in place by opening day in early April, Cubs Chairman Crane Kenney said previously. But several sources and bankruptcy court experts questioned whether the process can move that fast.
The Cubs open their season on April 6 in Houston and their first game in Wrigley Field is April 13.
Separately, Tribune said on Thursday that it is deregistering its debt securities. As a result, it said it will no longer have to file quarterly and annual financial reports or significant announcements with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. (Additional reporting by Robert MacMillan in New York, editing by Matthew Lewis, Andre Grenon, Gary Hill)