Completion of Cubs Sale Could Drag On Past May

CHICAGO (Reuters) – The sale of the Chicago Cubs baseball team could drag on past May as the Ricketts family arranges financing for its $900 million bid and works for Major League Baseball’s approval.

Officials with Tribune Co, which is selling the team, its storied home park of Wrigley Field and a 25 percent stake in a local sports TV network, had originally hoped to have the deal done in May.

“They are being optimistic, frankly, despite good intentions all the way around,” said a person with knowledge of the sale who was not authorized to speak on the matter.

Cubs Chairman Crane Kenney declined to speculate on when a sale might be completed. The Cubs were scheduled to play their first home game on Monday against the Colorado Rockies.

But others were more optimistic about the timetable.

“I still think we’re going to get it done in May. I don’t see why we’re not,” said a second source familiar with the sales process who asked not to be identified.

Tom Ricketts, the Chicago-based chief executive of Incapital LLC and the son of the founder of TD Ameritrade Holding Corp, is leading his family’s bid for the Cubs.

Tribune, which owns the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times newspapers, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in December due to its heavy debt load and the weak U.S. publishing sector. It put the Cubs on the block in April 2007, when Tribune agreed to an $8.2 billion buyout led by real estate magnate Sam Zell.

Bidders were eager to take control of the team, which has not won a World Series title since 1908. The “loveable losers” have national exposure on cable TV.

Baseball officials have met several times with representatives of the Ricketts family and Tribune Co during the past several weeks.

In February, the Ricketts family raised more than $400 million through the sale of TD Ameritrade shares back to the online discount broker. As part of the Cubs sale, the Tribune is expected to maintain a stake of at least 5 percent in the baseball club.

Major League Baseball’s owners are expected to vote on the sale before it is submitted to the U.S. bankruptcy court in Delaware for final approval, said the first source who asked to remain anonymous.

Bankruptcy lawyers have said the court’s approval process could take another two to four weeks. While the Cubs are not part of the bankruptcy, the court must approve any deal.

The idea was for owners to vote on the Ricketts family bid at their meeting in New York on May 20-21. The bid requires the approval of 75 percent of baseball’s 30 team owners.

If the Cubs sale is not approved at the May owners’ meeting, MLB officials will likely hold a special meeting to vote on the matter via telephone because the next owners’ meeting is not scheduled until August, the first source said.

(Reporting by Ben Klayman, editing by Leslie Gevirtz)