Ricketts won Cubs bidding war with cash and connections

By Carol Eisenberg

January 26, 2009 at 8:02am

The way folks in Chicago like to tell it, Thomas Ricketts bleeds Cubbie blue.

The 43-year-old bond trader, who was selected from among competing bidders to purchase the Chicago Cubs, is actually an Omaha native. But the story goes that when he moved to the Windy City 25 years ago to attend the University of Chicago, he got an apartment across the street from Wrigley Field, and proceeded to spend all his free time there. He even met his wife in the bleachers.

“He’s really smart, he really loves baseball and he really loves the Cubs,” Curt Conklin, who shared an apartment there with him, told the Associated Press.

But while Cubs loyalists are cheering ownership by a hometown fan, that was not what helped Ricketts beat out his competitors - Marc Utay, a managing partner with New York-based private equity firm Clarion Capital Partners LLC, and Chicago real estate executive Hersh Klaff of Clarion Capital, who partnered with Leo Hindery Jr. of InterMedia Partners.

The deal was all about cash and connections. The Ricketts family is said to have offered about $900 million – slightly less than another bid, but offering more cash up front, according to media reports, which is significant to the Cubs’ current owner, the cash-starved Tribune Company now in bankruptcy.

While Ricketts is the point person, moreover, his bid was made on behalf of several members of the Ricketts family, using the family ownership model preferred by Major League Baseball. Partnering with him are three siblings and his father, J. Joe Ricketts, who founded the Ameritrade brokerage, now part of TD Ameritrade Holding Corp. The family’s 22-percent stake in that company is valued at about $1.5 billion.

Beyond that, Ricketts sought an inside edge by hiring the law firm, Foley & Lardner, which serves as the principal outside counsel for Major League Baseball. A longtime Foley partner is Robert DuPuy, the president of Major League Baseball.

The purchase is not yet a done deal, however. Ricketts has a 60-to-90 day exclusive window to close on what would be the biggest auction in Major League Baseball history. In addition to the team, the bid incudes Wrigley Field and a 25-percent stake in a Chicago sports network.

And some are skeptical that at a time of frozen credit, he and his family can pull it off. On the other hand, structuring deals is what Ricketts does. After getting an MBA from the University of Chicago, he made it as a trader and as a bond dealer. He is now chairman of a Chicago company he founded, Incapital LLC, which helps corporations raise money by issuing bonds.

“My family and I are Cubs fans,” Ricketts said in a statement. “We share the goal of Cubs fans everywhere to win a World Series and build the consistent championship tradition that the fans deserve.”

Perhaps he’s the guy to finally end the Cubs’ 100-year losing streak.

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