Chicago Cubs: End of an era as Tribune Company sells remaining stakes

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(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) /
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The Ricketts family now controls 100 percent of the Chicago Cubs. What does this mean and could it explain the team’s lack of spending this offseason?

To this point, the Ricketts family owned 95 percent of the Chicago Cubs.  That changed late this week as they closed a deal to buy out Tribune Media’s remaining five percent stake in the team, becoming sole owners of the beloved franchise.

In 1981, Tribune Media, then known as the Tribune Co., bought the Cubs from the team’s founders, the Wrigley family, for $21.1 million.  For nearly 40 years, the Chicago-area company has had their footprint within the storied organization.

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However, in 2011, after the company ran into financial problems and declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy, Chicago Entertainment Ventures, also known as the Ricketts’ family trust, entered a partnership with the Tribune that allotted the family a 95 percent stake in the team.  By not selling the team outright and entering into a what is called a leveraged partnership with the Ricketts, it allowed both parties to avoid a plethora of various tax hurdles but still making the family majority owners.

While allowing both parties to avoid capital gain taxes, the terms of the deal required the Ricketts to pay $425 million of the absolved Tribune debt until 2019.

Now that the calendar has turned to 2019, the Ricketts were quick to wrap up this partnership, which had a reported $30 million a year interest rate.  On Friday, the family officially took full ownership of the Chicago Cubs.

Does this explain the team’s lack of spending?

Since the beginning of the offseason, the Cubs have been adamant about not spending a substantial amount of money of free agents, despite including a pool of impressive young players in their prime, namely Bryce Harper and Manny Machado.

To me, it all makes sense now and explains that the Cubs weren’t playing coy with the public all along and were, in fact, NOT spending this offseason.  This deal makes all the rumors and statements now as clear as a sunny summer afternoon day at Wrigley Field.

If you’re a fan of Harper or Machado and were hoping to see them in a Cubs uniform at the start of next season, you’re most likely going to be disappointed and should probably put that baby to bed.

However, that doesn’t mean we can’t be excited about what this means for the future of your favorite team.

Without the hefty absorbed debt paid to the Tribune for that leverage partnership, the Cubs could now have extra payroll for seasons to come.  With those annual fees now officially off the books, not to mention an up-and-coming TV network, the Ricketts have put the team in a position to be successful for many years.

While some fans may be disappointed this happened because it will most likely be a direct result the Cubs won’t sign someone like Harper, despite his many nods to the team to coerce them, I promise you, the Ricketts did something good here.

Cubs fans have suffered through many years of futility and, as a life-long fan myself, it’s odd, almost unknown territory, that the Cubs have managed to remain not only successful but a contending team for five straight seasons.

I pinch myself every day but this is the crazy world we live in now.

Since the Ricketts paid $845 million to acquire the team, they have done nothing but show the best interest in putting out a winning on-field product.  This deal is no different.  It solidifies to us that they plan on staying on that course.

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So you may weep you won’t see Harper in blue pinstripes today or any other day, for that matter, but you’ll cheer and bow down the Ricketts when we’re able to see more October baseball played at Wrigley Field for many more years to come.

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