CHICAGO -- A billionaire family of Chicago Cubs fans -- including one who first met his wife in the bleachers at Wrigley Field -- is set to purchase the team and ballpark from Tribune Co.
The sale would include Wrigley Field and a 25 percent interest in a regional sports network, said Dennis Culloton, a spokesman for group head Tom Ricketts. Culloton said the deal was worth about $900 million.
"My family and I are Cubs fans," Ricketts said in a statement Thursday night. "We share the goal of Cubs fans everywhere to win a World Series and build the consistent championship tradition that the fans deserve."
The family, whose bid was picked from among three finalists, also said in the statement that it's looking forward to working with the Tribune and Major League Baseball to close the transaction promptly. Tribune Co. spokesman Gary Weitman declined comment.
The selection of Ricketts, a member of the founding family of TD Ameritrade Holding Corp. and chief executive of InCapital LLC, was first reported on the Chicago Sun-Times' Web site.
Now more than a century removed from their last World Series title, the Cubs were purchased by Tribune Co. from Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co. for $20.5 million in June 1981. Tribune Co. put the team on the market on opening day 2007, when real estate mogul Sam Zell agreed to buy the corporation.
Cubs chairman Crane Kenney said last week that the team hopes to have a new owner in place by opening day, April 6, but many steps must happen before a sale can be completed.
"Obviously, these final negotiations are key, but my client is, as the statement indicates, pretty optimistic," Culloton said.
Ricketts must reach an agreement with Tribune Co., which filed for bankruptcy protection last month. While the Cubs and Wrigley Field were not included in the bankruptcy filing, a sale likely will have to be approved by the creditors' committee and possibly a bankruptcy judge.
In addition, a sale must be approved by baseball owners.
Under the structure that had been discussed with baseball officials, Tribune Co. would keep a small percentage of the team for tax reasons, probably around 5 percent, a baseball official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because discussions between the team and MLB have not been made public.
Other finalists in the bidding included Hersch Klaff, who owns a Chicago commercial real estate firm, and a partnership between two New Yorkers involved in private equity, Marc Utay of Clarion Capital and Leo Hindery Jr. of InterMedia Partners.
Ricketts, the point man in his family's bid, grew up watching the Cubs and once lived in an apartment above a bar across the street from Wrigley Field. His father, J. Joe Ricketts, helped found the retail brokerage that became Ameritrade, a leading online stock brokerage. Tom Ricketts never worked as an Ameritrade executive, but he does serve on the Omaha, Neb.-based company's board with his father and brother, Peter Ricketts.
The Ricketts family controls about 22 percent of Ameritrade's stock.
Tom Ricketts was a market maker at the Chicago Board Options Exchange and finance executive before starting investment bank Incapital LLC.
"If it's true that this Tom Ricketts is a real fan, then it should be a good move, but I really wish it had been [Dallas Mavericks owner] Mark Cuban. He was passionate about it, and he really wants them to win," said Cubs fan Hope Bertram of Chicago.
If the deal is approved, the Ricketts would acquire a team that hasn't won the World Series since 1908 and hasn't even made it to the Fall Classic since 1945. While the Cubs won the NL Central in each of the last two seasons, they were swept in the first round of the playoffs both times.
Tribune Co. considered selling the team and the famous ballpark separately but rejected a plan from the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority to purchase the ivy-walled stadium. Kenney said recently the two would be sold together.
Tribune Co. owns the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The (Baltimore) Sun, The Hartford Courant and other dailies as well as 23 television stations. It has been smothered by a drop-off in advertising and $13 billion in debt from Zell's acquisition. The company is selling off assets as it seeks to raise cash to deal with the debt.