IRVINE, Calif. - The board of Freedom Communications, parent of East Valley Tribune and Scottsdale Tribune, decided Thursday to solicit bids for the sale or merger of the family-owned media company.
Freedom’s chief executive officer, Alan Bell, said the decision was based on the desire of a majority of roughly 80 shareholders, expressed in a straw poll last month, to explore a sale or merger of the company. But while Freedom is essentially hanging out a ‘‘for sale’’ sign, the outcome is far from certain.
‘‘We’re opening this process up to destiny. Anything could happen,’’ said Bell, who expects the process to take six to nine months.
‘‘We’ve directed (investment bankers) Morgan Stanley to bring us bids for all the company, part of the company, a merger with a partner, bids for cash, bids for stock. . . .’’ Bell said. He said the process would establish a market value for the company. That would allow family members who want to retain control of the company to make an offer to buy out other shareholders.
Numerous media companies are known to be interested in Freedom, the country’s 11th-largest newspaper company, or some of its properties. Potential bidders include Gannett Co., which owns USA Today and the Arizona Republic, McClatchy Co., Tribune Co., The New York Times Co. and Dean Singleton, head of MediaNews Group, declined to comment.
Freedom owns 28 dailies, 37 weeklies and eight television stations. The value of Freedom has been estimated at as much as $2 billion. Freedom is owned by the descendants and in-laws of Freedom’s founder Raymond Hoiles, who began amassing his media empire when he bought the Santa Ana (Calif.) Register in 1935.
Thursday’s decision to seek bids culminates a 20-year family feud that resurfaced last summer, when Tim Hoiles, a grandson of the founder, began pushing to cash out his 8.6 percent stake in Freedom. The younger Hoiles hired U.K. investment banker Christopher Shaw to line up potential bidders, which rankled the company’s management.