UPDATE 1-Tribune intends to keep 5 pct stake in Cubs-source

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CHICAGO, June 4 (Reuters) - Tribune Co plans to keep a 5 percent stake in the Chicago Cubs after it sells the professional baseball team in a deal that could save the media company millions of dollars, a source familiar with the plans said on Wednesday.

The source, who asked not to be identified because the sale process is ongoing, said Tribune Co intends to retain the 5 percent stake as part of a leveraged partnership structure that has tax advantages for the company.

“There’s some tax structures that they’re contemplating, which would have them retain a small percentage ownership of it,” the source said.

“He’s very tax oriented. Let’s just put it that way,” the source said of Tribune Co Chief Executive Sam Zell.

The Cubs, which analysts said could attract bids topping $1 billion when its home park Wrigley Field and a stake in a sports cable TV network are included, are recognized nationally due to the team’s history as lovable losers as well as its national exposure on cable television. The Tribune is selling the team and other assets to reduce its debt.

The Chicago Tribune reported on Wednesday that Zell told employees Tribune Co would retain a minority interest in the baseball club, saying selling to an owner focused on the team would benefit the media company with its retained stake. It did not identify the size of the stake.

Tribune Co made a similar deal when it agreed last month to sell Newsday, its daily newspaper on Long Island, New York, to Cablevision Systems Corp CVC.N for $650 million. By retaining a minority stake in Newsday, Tribune Co avoided paying some taxes that it would have paid in an outright sale.

Zell told employees in Denver of the plan to retain the Cubs stake as part of a tour of the company’s newspapers and TV stations, the newspaper reported.

“In all likelihood, the company will keep some kind of minority interest in the Cubs,” Zell said, according to the paper. “An asset like that is an extraordinary asset for ego gratification and identification, none of which the Tribune took advantage of ... nor do I think they were capable of doing that.

“It belongs in entrepreneurial hands and I think that would benefit the team, the city and, for sure, Tribune,” he added.

A spokesman for Zell’s Tribune Co, which owns the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times newspapers among other assets, confirmed Zell’s comments.

Potential bidders for the Cubs are still waiting for the club’s financial books.

The source said the books should be sent to bidders “in a matter of days” as Tribune Co and Major League Baseball are finishing edits of their comments on the offering memorandum.

Nine potential bidders have been pre-approved for the process by the league, which must approve any owner before a sale can be final, the source said.

The Chicago Tribune also reported that Zell was interested in speaking to talk-show host Jay Leno about a possible job, saying Tribune Co’s cable station WGN America could be a potential distribution outlet for him. (Additional reporting by Paul Thomasch and Robert MacMillan; Editing by John Wallace and Maureen Bavdek)