In an effort to pay down $13 billion in debt incurred in the $8.2 billion buyout of the Tribune Co., Sam Zell is proposing selling off Wrigley Field to the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority (ISFA), thereby decoupling the Chicago Cubs from its iconic home.
With Zell also looking to sell the Cubs, the proposed sale of Wrigley has created an aspect to prospective buyers of the Cubs that can only be viewed as a negative on two levels.
Not only will ownership lose the ability maximize an under utilized Wrigley Field, but if sold to the ISFA, ownership would help pay for capital improvements to Wrigley without benefiting from owning it. As reported by Crain’s Chicago Business:
The Chicago media company and state officials are negotiating a deal that would have the state float bonds to finance the stadium's acquisition and future renovation. Debt would be retired over a few decades via rent payments by the new team owner, as well as through revenue from selling Wrigley's naming rights. The plan would need approval from the Illinois Legislature.
That lease arrangement is the rub, prospective bidders say. Would-be owners fear being saddled with decades of rent payments to compensate Tribune for a ballpark they'll never own. That would crimp cash flow that otherwise could be spent on signing All-Stars in pursuit of a long-elusive World Series championship, they say.
Understandably, comments from those bidding on the Cubs (all requesting anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the sale), see the selling of Wrigley separately as a black mark now added to the deal. It also explains why the deal “book” – the book outlining the details all the assets involved in the sale of the Cubs that allows prospective owners to do their due-diligence – has not yet been delivered to prospective purchasers of the storied franchise.
Sam Zell, of course, has no emotional attachment to the Cubs. In a press conference just after the beginning of the year, Zell said he was hopeful to sell the Cubs, and all other Tribune related holdings (a 25 percent stake in ComcastSports Chicago, Wrigley Field, Wrigley Field Premium Tickets, and the Cubs) by the opening of the 2008 season, a nearly impossible task given that the book has not yet been delivered to bidders. The statement outlines the reality of Zell’s world right now: he’s preparing to make his first payments on Tribune, which is saddled with a mountain of debt. Unloading the Cubs – or just Wrigley – would put some much needed funds in Zell’s pockets now, while the rest of the pieces are sold off.
Would the sale of the Friendly Confines impact the sale of the Cubs? Absolutely. Will it chase of serious bidders? As I am quoted in the Chicago Business article:
It's little surprise that bidders for the Cubs would want control over the revenue that would flow from any future overhaul of Wrigley, says Maury Brown, president of Portland, Ore.-based research firm Business of Sports Network.
"There's no question this (stadium deal) would take away some luster for bidders," Mr. Brown says. "But the serious guys are going to stay because the Cubs are the Cubs. Huge bragging rights will go to whoever owns that team."
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