Monday, June 25, 2007

Leader at the turn

As the Cubs season nears the All Star break heading toward the second half, speculation on the new Cub owner will probably become heavier. We are in the final days of Tribune Corporate ownership, gimme a hallelujah! This morning, repoted that the leader, at this time, looks to be John Canning Jr., CEO of Madison Dearborn Partners. Here is what they said about Canning and his relationship with Uncle Bud:

For those who spend more time perusing box scores than M&A deal books, Canning, 62, heads the Chicago-based private-equity firm behind last month's $5.7 billion purchase of Nuveen Investments and the recent $7.3 billion buyout of computer retailer CDW Corp. (Charts, Fortune 500) Any deal for the Cubbies, however, would be led by Canning personally, not Madison Dearborn.

In Selig's mind, Canning has three things going for him. He has deep pockets to buy the team, he has Chicago roots, and, as part owner of the Milwaukee Brewers (he'd have to sell that stake), he's already a familiar face to the league's owners. He's also a big fan: Before becoming a private-equity mogul, he was a young catcher who failed in a 1962 tryout with the Atlanta Braves.

"I have enormous respect for John Canning, both as a person and as a businessman. But it's a process that will be fair and open," says Selig. "The Cubs are one of our treasures. It's a storied franchise with legions of fans all over. The only thing I would hope for is an owner who is very protective of the franchise and represents the city of Chicago well."

While Canning is considered the leading contender, closing the deal may not go as smoothly as a Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance double play. That's because the team is being sold by a public company with a fiduciary responsibility to sell to the highest bidder. In contrast, when hedge fund trader John Henry bought the Boston Red Sox for close to $700 million in 2002, the seller was a public trust. Henry was not the top bidder, but he got the team because he was well regarded by Selig and team owners, who must approve any team sale.

It sounds to me like Canning has almost everything Selig wants to run the Cubs. He has deep pockets, he is already part of the old boys club as a partial owner of the Brewers, he's a Chicagoan, and most impotantly as owner of the Chicago Cubs he will be an ally to Selig and the Commisioners office. We may still have 9 holes to play, but Canning looks to have a two or three stroke lead IMO.

One foot out the door?

So what would new ownership mean to the current Cubs management team? More than likely it means most of them will be looking for work. This includes the teams current President and former marketing guru John McDonough. In yesterdays Chicago Tribune, Fred Mitchell reported that rumors have McDonough heading north to Green Bay to take over for Bob Harlan.

John McDonough to the Packers?

That is one of the hottest rumors circulating around northern Wisconsin these days. The Cubs president could become a free agent at the end of this season when the team is sold and his contract expires. McDonough's proven marketing and people skills could become an asset to virtually any professional sports organization if he isn't retained after Tribune Co. sells the club.

Current Packers President/COO Bob Harlan, 71, was asked recently to end his brief retirement and resume his role for an undetermined time period after 55-year-old John Jones took an unexpected and open-ended leave of absence. Harlan has been the corporate and community face of the Packers for 18 years. The Packers, according to sources, have not made any formal overture to McDonough, nor has he made one to Green Bay.

When asked of the rumor Saturday evening, McDonough replied: "I am extremely flattered that there is speculation my name would be included. But my commitment and wish is to stay with the Cubs."

It's all about being in the right place at the right time. Last year McDonough was the marketing guy. He spends one year as President of the club. He leaves when the new owner takes over and could possibly land in a spot where his team could win a championship long before the Cubs. Interesting how that works.

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