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July 21, 2008 5:15 PM

Chicago Am Law 200 Lawyer Bidding for Cubs Ownership

Posted by Brian Baxter

Wrigley_field_view

In what could be the most lucrative sale ever for a professional sports franchise, Reuters reports that preliminary bids for the famous Chicago Cubs baseball team were submitted over the weekend.

One of those bidders, The Am Law Daily has learned, is labor and employment partner Thomas Mandler of Chicago's Hinshaw & Culbertson. A member of the firm's executive committee, the 61-year-old Mandler is part of a group of bidders that includes Jim Anixter, president of Northbrook, Ill.-based electrical wire and cable manufacturer A-Z Industries, and former Cubs outfielder and current Hall of Famer Billy Williams.

Sources familiar with the auction process who requested anonymity say that in addition to being a bidder, Mandler is lead counsel for his ownership group. This isn't the first time Mandler and Anixter have bid for the Cubs. In 1981 the two sought to buy the team from the Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company for $22 million. (The Wrigley family said the team wasn't for sale before turning around several weeks later and selling it to the Tribune Company for $20.5 million.)

But the Cubbies came back on the market last year when Chicago-based billionaire real estate entrepreneur Sam Zell bought Tribune for $8.2 billion in April 2007. Since then, Zell has publicly stated his intention to sell one of Major League Baseball's oldest teams. (Zell plans on using the proceeds from the sale to pay down debt he accrued on the Tribune acquisition.)

All potential ownership groups have signed strong confidentiality agreements with MLB and Tribune's financial advisers at JPMorgan Chase in order to submit official bids. Additional bidders include Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and John Canning, chairman of Chicago-based private equity firm Madison Dearborn Partners.

The auction book lists three major assets for sale: the team itself, the legendary Wrigley Field stadium (pictured above) where the Cubs have played since 1916, and a 25 percent stake in Comcast SportsNet Chicago, which broadcasts the games of most Windy City area professional sports teams.

Various studies have put the value of the team alone at roughly $600 million with the estimated total value of all three assets likely to approach $1 billion. (U.S. billionaire Malcolm Glazer paid nearly $1.5 billion for a controlling interest in British soccer team Manchester United in 2005, the most ever for a professional sports franchise.)

Mandler's bidding partner and fellow Cubs season-ticket holder, Jim Anixter, is the son of Alan Anixter, who founded the Anixter Brothers wire and cable company that the Anixter family ironically sold to Zell of all people in 1986. (Zell-owned Anixter International is now the world's largest wire and cable specialist for the electrical industry.)

After the sale to Zell, Jim Anixter's brother, Scott, started a smaller version of the company that he called Anicom. It was Scott Anixter who would be indicted by federal prosecutors in October 2003 on 26 felony fraud charges. The case is listed on the Justice Department's Corporate Fraud Task Force. Scott Anixter's trial date was vacated after he was diagnosed with stage IV non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. He passed away in September 2007. Jim Anixter was never implicated in any federal investigation.

The auction process is expected to conclude sometime in the fall with a final sale taking place before the end of the year. Any winning bidder will need the additional approval of three-quarters of MLB's 30 owners.

442-lawyer Hinshaw & Culbertson placed 143rd in this year's Am Law 200 rankings with gross revenue of $177 million and profits per equity partner of $505,000.

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It will be good to get the Cubs out from under Sam Zell. Meanwhile, the team istelf is playing extremely well this year. Go Cubs!

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