Ricketts set to buy Cubs, Wrigley for $900 million

Baseball

January 23, 2009|By Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO - After nearly two years of intrigue, the billionaire Ricketts family has emerged as the winning bidder to purchase the Chicago Cubs from Tribune Co. for about $900 million, sources close to the situation said last night.

The family will now complete negotiations with Tribune Co.

The family edged out Chicago real-estate investor Hersch Klaff and New York private-equity investor Marc Utay, a Chicago native, for the chance to follow Tribune Co., the Chicago-based media conglomerate, as owners of the storied yet hard-luck franchise.

The Ricketts family effort, led by Tom Ricketts, who lives in the Chicago area, still has a number of hurdles to clear before taking ownership of the Cubs, including receiving approval from 23 of the league's 30 owners.

Cubs officials have said they hope to complete the sale by the start of the new season in April.

The deal would represent a return to family ownership for the Cubs. Before Tribune took control of the team in 1981, the Wrigley family, founders of the chewing-gum company, owned the club for 65 years. They sold the team and Wrigley Field to the media company, which owns The Baltimore Sun, for $20.5 million.

In Chicago, the Ricketts family is hardly as well known as the Wrigleys, or any of the current owners of the city's major professional sports franchises, but that would certainly change quickly for the new custodians of one of the country's best-known teams and most storied stadiums. Along with the Cubs, the Ricketts are buying Wrigley Field and a 25 percent stake in a regional cable sports network.

The family patriarch, J. Joe Ricketts, grew up in Omaha, Neb., and started a discount stock brokerage. In the 1990s he transformed the company into an Internet trading powerhouse now known as TD Ameritrade Holding Corp. He is ranked among the world's billionaires, according to Forbes magazine, with an estimated net worth of $1.2 billion. Shares of the company are also owned by his wife and four children.

Tribune Co. put the Cubs up for sale in April 2007 upon announcing it would go private in a debt-laden $8.2 billion transaction led by Chicago real-estate mogul Sam Zell. Selling the Cubs is needed to pay down debt.

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