Investor Utay leads a Cubs bidder group: sources

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Marc Utay, a managing partner with New York-based private equity firm Clarion Capital Partners LLC, is leading one of the groups bidding for the Chicago Cubs baseball team, two sources briefed on the matter said on Tuesday.

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Utay leads the group that includes media investor Leo Hindery, said the two sources, who asked not to be identified because the sale process is ongoing.

Utay could not be reached to comment.

Tribune Co, which is selling the Cubs as well as the team’s home ballpark Wrigley Field and a stake in a regional sports TV network, has narrowed the field of bidders to five groups in a process expected to attract offers topping $1 billion.

Other bidders include Internet billionaire Mark Cuban, who owns the National Basketball Association Dallas Mavericks team; Tom Ricketts, chief executive of Chicago securities and investment bank Incapital LLC and son of TD Ameritrade Holding Corp’s founder; Chicago real estate executive Hersh Klaff; and MVC Capital Inc Chairman Michael Tokarz.

Utay has been a managing partner at Clarion, which invests in middle-market and growth-oriented companies, since its founding in 1999, according to the firm’s website.

Prior to that, from 1993 to 1999, he was a managing director at Wasserstein Perella & Co, where he served as co-head of the media, telecommunications, entertainment and technology group, the leveraged finance group and the retail group, according to the website. During that period, he led investments in Imax Corp and All-Clad Holdings.

Hindery 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. He had been known to be part of, but not leading, one of the bidding groups.

The Tokarz group includes private equity investor Fred Malek, who heads the national finance committee for Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign. Malek was also once part owner of the Texas Rangers baseball team and also bid on the ball club now in Washington.

The Tokarz/Malek group also has teamed up with a group led by New York City taxi tycoon Andrew Murstein. His group -- Sports Properties Acquisition Corp -- includes former home run king Henry Aaron and Jack Kemp, a former U.S. congressman and star quarterback in the National Football League.

Tribune, which owns the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times newspapers, is selling the Cubs and other assets to cut debt it took on when it went private in an $8.2 billion deal led by real estate magnate Sam Zell.

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 previously told Reuters.

The Cubs are nationally recognized due to their history as lovable losers and their national exposure on cable television. The bidders are now chasing an even hotter property, with the team in first place in its division and looking for its first World Series title since 1908.

The remaining bidding groups will see the Cubs’ detailed financial data next and then receive a management presentation before final bids are accepted and a winner selected, probably after the baseball season ends.

A deal could be finalized by year-end or early next year, pending approval by Major League Baseball.

Editing by Braden Reddall