CHICAGO -- Tribune Co.'s new CEO, Sam Zell, said the Cubs will be sold by Opening Day, and that he may sell naming rights to Wrigley Field because such rights could be "extraordinarily valuable."
Zell, who took over the company on Thursday, completing an $8.2 billion deal, confirmed the team will be sold during an introductory news conference. The Tribune has owned the Cubs since 1981, and Zell is selling the team and some related assets to help pay off the company's $13 billion debt.
Last week, Tribune asked the state of Illinois to explore the possibility of acquiring Wrigley Field through the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority, which is the government-backed sports agency.
The sports body was created by state lawmakers in 1987 for the purpose of building a new Comiskey Park, now U.S. Cellular Field, which is home to the Chicago White Sox. On Thursday, Zell acknowledged those discussions.
"We believe that transaction, when completely vetted, is very beneficial for the city of Chicago, is very beneficial for the Cubs, and for the future of a Major League Baseball team in this city," Zell said. "[Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich] originally approached us on this. We studied it; we thought it was an interesting concept. We started meeting with [Chicago Mayor Richard Daley's] people on it. We'll see where that goes.
"Up until now, we've delayed -- although they're ready -- sending out the books on the Cubs until we had a better understanding of where this stands," Zell said. "I think the goal would be to complete the transaction before the beginning of the baseball season."
There are plenty of interested buyers, Zell said.
The Cubs open their 133rd season on March 31 at home. Wrigley Field is the second oldest ballpark in the Major Leagues, hosting its first Cubs game in 1916, when it was known as Weeghman Park.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.