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Cubs agree to sell franchise to Ricketts

Cubs agree to sell franchise to Ricketts

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A two-year quest to sell the Cubs ended on Friday, as the parent Tribune Co. signed a definitive agreement to sell 95 percent of the franchise to the Ricketts family for $845 million.

Tom and Joe Ricketts will have management control of the joint venture as its 95 percent owner. Tribune Co. -- which owns the club, Wrigley Field and approximately a 25 percent interest in Comcast SportsNet -- will retain a five percent ownership interest.

"Our family is thrilled to have reached an agreement to acquire a controlling interest in the Chicago Cubs, one of the most storied franchises in sports," said Joe Ricketts, the founder of TD Ameritrade Holding Corp. "The Cubs have the greatest fans in the world, and we count our family among them. We look forward to closing the transaction so that we can begin leading the Cubs to a World Series title."

"The Cubs are encouraged that the Tribune and the Ricketts family have reached agreement on the transaction and see this as a very positive step toward the ownership transition," Cubs chairman Crane Kenney said.

The Ricketts family has been given the nod over Marc Utay, a managing partner with New York-based private equity firm Clarion Capital Partners LLC. Tom Ricketts is chief executive of Chicago investment bank Incapital LLC and the son of Joe Ricketts.

"We are pleased at the progress made on the sale of the Cubs and look forward to working with the Tribune Co. and the Ricketts family to complete the transaction as smoothly as possible," Bob DuPuy, Major League Baseball's president and chief operating officer, said Friday in a response to an e-mail query.

Ricketts won the initial bidding process and opened an exclusive negotiating period in January but did not close the deal before that period ended. Thus, Tribune reopened secondary negotiations with Utay and his investor/partner, Leo Hindery, the former president and chief executive of the YES Network who now runs InterMedia Partners, a media investment firm.

Tribune Co., now owned by real-estate magnate Sam Zell, purchased the Cubs and the ballpark in 1981 for $20 million.

"This joint venture will provide dedicated, local family ownership and management for the team," Zell, Tribune Co's chairman, said. "The Ricketts family will be a great steward of the franchise. They have a strong respect for the team, for the fans and for what the Cubs mean to the City of Chicago."

Complicating matters is the fact that Tribune Co. filed for bankruptcy reorganization in December. Though the Cubs were not part of that filing, a bankruptcy judge could determine whether the sale of the Cubs is considered an asset to pay off creditors.

As part of the court's approval process, "the entity holding most of the assets of the Cubs franchise will voluntarily file for Chapter 11 protection so that the franchise can emerge free and clear of Tribune Co.'s financial obligations," Tribune Co. said.

All parties concerned hope that the court approval will come sometime in the final quarter of 2009. In the interim, the bankruptcy proceedings are not anticipated to affect the operations of the franchise. Heading into Friday night's action against the Dodgers in Los Angeles, the Cubs were 61-58, seven games behind the first-place Cardinals in the National League Central.

The Cubs haven't won a World Series title since 1908, and they haven't appeared in a Fall Classic since 1945.

Once the deal is approved by the court, it will be submitted to Major League Baseball, where just like any other transfer of ownership it must be approved by a 75-percent vote of the 30 clubs. The sale process has taken more than two years, meaning the internal MLB vetting process is well under way and approval of the sale would seem to be a formality.

In any event, the sale doesn't seem destined to be presented to the baseball owners for approval at the earliest until their next meeting in November, aptly slated to be held in Chicago.

The Tribune is the flagship newspaper of Tribune Co., which was purchased by Zell in August 2007. Upon purchasing the company, Zell immediately announced his intention to sell the baseball franchise and all its component parts.

Forbes Magazine valued the Cubs at $700 million this year, fifth highest in MLB behind the Yankees ($1.5 billion), Mets ($912 million), Red Sox ($833 million) and Dodgers ($722 million).

The sale would allow management to move forward on a ballpark village adjacent to Wrigley Field and a complete retrofitting of the ballpark, which will turn 100 years old in 2014.

Barry Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. Carrie Muskat contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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