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Cubs sale unanimously approved

10/6/2009 - MLB Chicago Cubs

CHICAGO -- Major League Baseball owners on Tuesday unanimously approved the sale of the Chicago Cubs from the bankrupt Tribune Co. to the family of online brokerage billionaire and longtime fan Joe Ricketts.

The vote was made during a conference call. Tom Ricketts, who has headed the sale for his family, could take day-to-day control of the Cubs by the end of the month.

Commissioner Bud Selig says the Ricketts family will be "great owners and custodians" of the storied franchise perhaps best known for a World Series championship drought that now stands at 101 years.

"We're extremely pleased that the sales process is drawing to a close," Selig added.

Chicago-based Tribune, which owns the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, other newspapers and TV properties, bought the Cubs in 1981 from candy maker Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co. for $20.5 million.

The Rickettses, whose wealth comes primarily from its stake in Omaha, Neb.-based TD Ameritrade Holding Corp., signed an agreement to buy a 95 percent stake in the team and in Wrigley Field, the second-oldest ballpark in the majors.

The $845 million deal also includes Tribune's approximately 25 percent share of regional cable TV network Comcast SportsNet Chicago.

"The Ricketts family is honored to have received the approval of Major League Baseball owners today. This is a major step forward, but the transaction is not yet complete," the family said in a statement.

A bankruptcy court still has to give final approval to the deal. And then a final financial closing must take place, though it is expected to be completed by the end of this month.

"We're pleased that Major League Baseball has approved the Cubs transaction and we look forward to concluding the transaction in the fourth quarter," Tribune Co. spokesman Gary Weitman said.

Tribune announced on Opening Day in 2007 that the marquee franchise and ballpark would be sold at the end of the season. But the process was slowed by CEO Sam Zell's efforts to maximize sale profits, the collapse of the credit markets and Tribune's 2008 bankruptcy filing.

The Ricketts family, tentatively selected as the winning bidder last January, had agreed to pay about $900 million for the package. The price was renegotiated to $845 million, with Tribune retaining a small stake for tax purposes.

The sale figure exceeds the record $660 million paid for the Boston Red Sox, its ballpark and its TV network in 2002.

After back-to-back division championships, the Cubs didn't make the playoffs this season, despite a payroll of $135 million.