CHICAGO — Media conglomerate Tribune Co. announced a definitive agreement to sell all but a 5 percent stake in the Chicago Cubs and Wrigley Field to the billionaire Ricketts family on Friday, capping a tortuous selection process that began nearly 2½ years ago.
Tribune valued the transaction at about $845 million.
"Our family is thrilled to have reached an agreement to acquire a controlling interest in the Chicago Cubs," said Joe Ricketts, who founded the Omaha, Nebraska-based online brokerage TD Ameritrade Holding Corp. "The Cubs have the greatest fans in the world, and we count our family among them."
Tribune had announced on Major League Baseball's opening day in 2007 that the marquee team and historic ballpark would be sold at the end of that season. But the process was slowed by CEO Sam Zell's efforts to maximize sale profits, including a failed attempt to sell Wrigley separately, along with the collapse of credit markets and Tribune's 2008 bankruptcy filing.
The Rickettses agreed when they were tentatively selected as the winning bidder last January to pay about $900 million for the team, Wrigley and a 25 percent stake in Comcast SportsNet Chicago, which broadcasts many Cubs games.
But that total was renegotiated, with Tribune retaining a small stake for legal reasons.
The sale figure exceeds the record $660 million paid for the Boston Red Sox in 2002 by a group headed by John Henry, although that deal did not include a ballpark.
The Ricketts family bid was led by Tom Ricketts, 43, a Chicago investment banker and Joe Ricketts' son. He is a Cubs die-hard who grew up watching the team, once lived in an apartment above a bar across the street from Wrigley and first met his wife in the stands at a game.
MLB still must approve the sale, but that is not expected to be an obstacle. The ownership change needs to be approved by three-quarters of the league's 30 owners.
Fans hope this will be the ownership that finally delivers a World Series to MLB's "lovable losers," who are more than a century removed from their last championship.
Tribune purchased the Cubs from candy and chewing gum maker Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co. for $20.5 million in June 1981.
The move would be welcomed by Mesa leaders, who've also indicated in the past that this deal getting finalized would mean they can move ahead with formally negotiating for upgrades to the team's spring training facility in the city.
This would give the city more certainty, and would allow them to get down to the details of what it would take to keep the team in Mesa, City manager Chris Brady had previously told the Tribune.
In March, Chicago Cubs chairman Crane Kenney made it clear that they would like improvements and upgrades done to the facilities in Mesa, especially at Fitch Park, where the major and minor league teams train. Brady has maintained regular contact with the team ever since, to ensure they can do whatever possible to hold on to the Cactus League star, lest they move elsewhere following the 2012 season.
If the team decides to leave Mesa, the city has to be informed by February 2010.
Tribune writer Sonu Munshi and the Associated Press contributed to this report.