If Mark Cuban sidles up to fellow Cubs fans at future Wrigley Field games, apparently he'll have to do so as a ticket buyer.
Cuban's bid to buy the team from owner Sam Zell? According to the Chicago Sun-Times, the Internet billionaire and owner of the NBA's Dallas Mavericks won't even make the final cut if commissioner Bud Selig and Major League Baseball owners have their way.
"There's no way Bud and the owners are going to let that happen," a baseball source told the Chicago Sun-Times earlier this week. "Zero chance."
Zell has yet to shorten the field of five potential buyers who submitted bids of about $1 billion to the Tribune Co. for the Cubs and Wrigley Field. The process has begun to drag: The Cubs were on the market at the start of the 2007 baseball season and a source told the Sun-Times that a deal before Opening Day 2009 is unlikely.
"Nothing's changed. I mean, it's a great opportunity," Cuban told The Associated Press before the Mavericks' game in Denver on Friday night. He would not comment further.
Major League Baseball must approve the sale of any team. During the past summer, Comcast SportsNet reported that Cuban was the highest bidder for the Cubs at $1.3 billion.
"The Cubs have got smart, smart people here. I mean they're winning, they're doing great things, I'll just stay out of the way," Cuban said in August, weeks after learning he had made the field of five bidders. "Believe it or not, I can stay out of the way."
Whether the deteriorating economy affects the final purchase price is unknown. Last summer, several bidders offering between $700 million and $900 million for all of the properties were excluded from the second round of consideration.
''We'll be standing here at next year's GM meetings,'' the source told the Sun-Times, ''and this will still be unresolved."
The AP reported that Zell is willing to sell a smaller share of the baseball team than initially planned because the credit crunch has made it tougher for potential buyers to obtain loans, a person familiar with the talks said Friday.
Tribune Co. was looking to sell a 95 percent share of the Cubs and other sports properties for more than $1 billion.
Company officials have told representatives for the bidders in recent weeks that Tribune was willing to be flexible, said the person, who asked not to be named because the talks were confidential.
The Wall Street Journal reported in Friday's editions that Tribune was willing to take bids for a 50 percent or smaller share. The amount a bidder must borrow to finance such a deal would decline accordingly, and the Journal said Tribune could sell additional stakes in the properties over time. The paper did not name its sources.
Tribune spokesman Gary Weitman declined comment.
The company, which owns the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune and other newspapers along with television stations, has about $12.5 billion in debt, primarily from a complex buyout that real estate mogul Zell orchestrated to take the company private.
Tribune has a $593 million principal payment due in June and has been trying to generate cash by selling the Cubs, Chicago's storied Wrigley Field stadium and the company's 25 percent stake in a regional sports cable channel.
Among the five bidders in addition to Cuban are the Ricketts family, which founded the brokerage that is now TD Ameritrade Holding Corp., and a group led by Sports Acquisition Holding Corp. that includes former baseball home run king Henry Aaron and former Republican congressman Jack Kemp.
The Tribune Co. paid $20.5 million for the Cubs in 1981.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.