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December 2, 2008 6:09 PM

Heavy Hitters Paul Weiss, Foley & Lardner on Cubs Bids

Posted by Zach Lowe

UPDATE (5:37 p.m.): Correction: A source with direct knowledge of the bid says a team from Foley & Lardner is taking the lead role in the Ricketts family's bid for the Cubbies. MoFo has worked closely with the Ricketts for years, but the source says Foley is heading up the Cubs bid.

Jeffrey Samuels, a partner at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, is a lifelong fan of the New York Mets, but over the next few months he'll be focused on another national league team: the Chicago Cubs.

That's because Samuels and his partner, Paul Ginsberg (a Yankee fan, he says), are advising private equity giant Clarion Capital Partners (headed by Marc Utay) in the company's bid for America's most lovable losers. (For the uninitiated, the Cubs have not won a World Series since 1908--the longest championship drought in professional sports.)

Clarion is among three finalists for the Cubs, currently owned by the Tribune Company. Real estate mogul Sam Zell purchased Tribune for $8.2 billion last year and has said he would prefer to sell the Cubs--and their legendary stadium, Wrigley Field--by the end of this year.

Samuels says Leonard Baxt of Dow Lohnes in Washington, D.C. is also advising Utay; Baxt helped a group led by exchange trader John Henry win ownership of the Boston Red Sox in 2002, Samuels says.

According to various reports, the final group of bidders does not include Mark Cuban, billionaire owner of the National Basketball Association's Dallas Mavericks and the bidder whose reported $1.3 billion topped all others in an earlier round of bidding for the Cubs. (As we reported last month, Cuban and his legal team at Dewey & LeBoeuf and Fish & Richardson are a bit preoccupied with defending Cuban against insider trading charges).

A source familiar with the proposals says that Foley & Lardner is representing a second potential ownership group, this one led by Tom Ricketts, current head of the Chicago investment bank Incapital. Ricketts' father, J. Joe Ricketts, founded TD Ameritrade Holding Corp.

A second source familiar with the deal says Morrison & Foerster is also working on the Ricketts bid, but in a more limited role. The firm has done securities work for Ricketts for years.

Anna Pinedo, a MoFo partner who has worked with Ricketts and Incapital before, declined comment, citing firm policy not to disclose ongoing work for clients. Ricketts did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

The third finalist is said to be Hersch Klaff, a Chicago real estate magnate. It is unclear who might be advising Klaff in his bid for the Cubs.

As for Samuels, he knows a little something about America's pastime. A Long Island native, he attended his first Mets game in 1962--the team's first season--at the old Polo Grounds stadium in Upper Manhattan. He says he then "haunted" the now-decaying Shea Stadium in Queens for years once the Mets moved there in 1964.

Away from the ballpark, Samuels led a Paul, Weiss team that represented Major League Baseball's commissioner's office in negotiating a landmark agreement 16 years ago that allowed teams in need of quick money to borrow against future television and merchandise earnings that MLB splits with every team.

"That," he says, "was before anyone knew the term 'securitization.' "

Samuels declined to comment on the specifics of Clarion's offer for the Cubs, which would also likely include a 25-percent stake in the Cubs' regional television network, according to Reuters. Experts say the final price for the team will be about $1 billion.

Even in this crumbling economy, a historic baseball team with legions of loyal fans and an iconic ballpark is still a hot commodity.

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