MediaFile

Cuban and the Cubs, a slam dunk?

cuban.jpgIt was a case of baseketball at the Sports Lawyers Association annual conference in San Francisco this week when the Chicago Cubs came up in conversation.

The Cubs, as most Media File readers know, is the pro baseball team being sold by Tribune Co as it looks for a way to dig away at its mountain of debt after it was taken private by Chicago real estate mogul and noted raconteur Sam Zell (careful with that link. It’s NSFW). One potential bidder is Dallas Mavericks owner and blogger Mark Cuban, who got quite a plug during the conference.

Thomas Ostertag, senior vice president and general counsel for Major League Baseball, was giving a state-of-the-sport speech to an audience of several hundred sports industry officials and attorneys. Here’s what he said about the Cubs:

“We do expect this sale to get more public attention than really almost any sale I can think of in the history of our game, putting aside perhaps the sale of a guy named Babe Ruth to the Yankees way, way back.”

That’s when Joel Litvin, president of league and basketball operations for the National Basketball Association said, “I’m sorry Tom, can I make a plug for Mark Cuban as the next owner of the Cubs?”

Murdoch kills Newsday bid

murdoch-frowns.jpgWhen Rupert Murdoch said the other day that he wasn’t investing in newspapers anymore, we assumed that he was being ironic, especially as it came in the same telephone conference call with News Corp analysts and reporters in which he said that he thought his agreement to buy Newsday from Tribune Co was all but sewn up .

That goes to show you what they say about assuming things.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday , and we subsequently confirmed , that News Corp isn’t going to chase Newsday after all. Instead, it’s pulling its $580 million bid, paving the way for Cablevision to likely take over its fellow Long Island media outlet. New York Daily News owner Mortimer Zuckerman is in the race still as far as we know, but it’s hard to see how Tribune will take his $580 million bid when Cablevision has a $70 million sweetener on top of that.

Why? Apparently the economics were unjustifiable. What could that mean? The short list: Tribune’s quarterly financial results, which came out late Friday, show the company continuing to lose advertising revenue at its newspapers; media ownership laws might make it tough for Murdoch to take the paper yet keep his New York-area television broadcast licenses; and finally, a bid higher than $650 million is already a higher valuation for a newspaper than most sensible financial folks see as feasible.

Tribune lawyers, not funny

tribune.jpgTribune Co under Chief Executive Sam Zell has really loosened up in the past few weeks. Just think back to the April 1 Web site “redesign,” not to mention this subsequent so-crazy-it-was-surreal press release.

It’s all part of Zell’s goal of getting folks at the debt-riddled company not to take themselves too seriously, but someone forgot to tell the lawyers. Check out excerpts from the press release issued on Wednesday:

CHICAGO, April 23, 2008-Tribune Company today announced that Don Liebentritt has been named general counsel and that David Eldersveld, the company’s senior counsel/mergers and acquisitions, has been promoted to vice president/deputy general counsel and corporate secretary. Crane Kenney, who has served as Tribune’s general counsel since 1996, will step down to devote all his time to his duties as chairman of the Chicago Cubs.

Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em at Tribune

smoking-clown.jpgTribune Co earned the scorn of its smoking employees when it decided to charge them $100 more than their non-smoking brethren for health insurance. That was before Sam Zell took over, however. Here’s the memo that went out to employees today.

Since the closing of the going-private transaction last December, we’ve been reviewing policies and practices across the company, including Tribune’s healthcare benefits. While well-intentioned, we think the tobacco-use fee implemented by the previous management team is inconsistent with the new culture we’re developing-we’d rather you use your own judgment when it comes to tobacco use, not impose ours upon you.

This policy was a part of open enrollment last fall and took effect January 1, 2008. I’m pleased to tell you that we’re eliminating this fee effective April 28th.

Good things come in threes for Murdoch

murdochfist1.jpgNews Corp’s Rupert Murdoch dominated headlines again on Tuesday as not one, but at least three news items rippled across the media world.

As shareholders of rival paper The New York Times assemble on Tuesday morning for its annual meeting held at the company’s glittering new headquarters near Times Square, Murdoch took steps to accelerate the remaking of the Wall Street Journal in his image. WSJ is set to announce today the resignation of its managing editor Marcus Brauchli, who is leaving 11 months into the job and just a few months following the closing of Murdoch’s $5 billion purchase of Dow Jones. Murdoch appointee and publisher Robert Thomson will take over the top editorial spot in the interim, according to news reports. 

Meanwhile, News Corp deal makers across town appear poised to reach a deal to relieve real estate magnate and Tribune Chief Sam Zell of his Newsday newspaper for about $580 million to create a joint venture to combine Murdoch’s New York Post and other assets with Tribune’s paper. The Newsday deal is expected to cut about $50 million in annual losses at the Post. 

Google!

schmidt.jpgGoogle suprised the market with better than expected quarterly results despite worries that it was being hit by economic weakness after comScore data showed it having trouble converting Web search into ad viewer. Google CEO Eric Schmidt even went as far as to say the company would still perform well for the whole year ”regardless of the business environment.” For investors, the results wiped away fears that Google was just as vulnerable as any company to recession fears and, as of this morning, company shares were up more than $80.

Some analysts noted that Google growth slowed from the previous quarter and that the good results did not completely eliminate concerns about its prospects (New York Times) . While Lehman and Merrill Lynch rushed to see who could raise their price targets for Google higher, shares of comScore quietly fell 8 percent. 

Schmidt gave less satisfaction in his comments on the company’s dealings with arch-rival Yahoo, but his tone was sweet: “It’s nice working with Yahoo and we like them very much.”

At Tribune, all the news that’s fit to eat

Sam Zell has a new round of ideas for how to fix Tribune. Read on for details. (Check Tribune’s temporarily redesigned Web site too, and remember: if you give people puppies, you can pay for Iraq coverage.)

CHICAGO, April 1, 2008-Tribune Company, the largest employee-owned media company in the nation, today announced it has changed its name to ZellCoMediaEnterprises Inc. or ZCMEINC. Zell, who made a fortune in real estate before deciding he’d like to dabble in an industry completely unfamiliar to him, announced the change in his record-setting 437th email to exhausted employees this year.

“H—, I put $315 million into this thing, and we’re on the hook for $13 billion-the least I ought to get is my name on the company’s stationery,” said Zell, who remains chairman and CEO of the newly named enterprise.

Fixing Tribune, one employee at a time

Sam Zell in his latest memo tells Tribune employees — the ones who haven’t been spiked — that he’s happy to see them so hard at work coming up with new ideas to help the publisher and broadcaster thrive. Employees have been so helpful, in fact, that Tribune has created an online “IdeaBank” for submissions, rather than the talktoSam AT tribune.com address that he’s been using. As he explains below, this will let other people in the company see them.

By the way, participation is expected, Zell says. Now get to work.

As I’ve said repeatedly, the best ideas for this company will come from you, and we’ve seen a number of these innovations come to life in the past 60 days, including: a new morning show in Hartford, a free newspaper targeting young adults in Baltimore, a new national news section in Newport News, and spadia ads in Orlando and South Florida. We need to test a lot of ideas; we recognize that some won’t work. But, we’ll never find the ones that do work, unless we try them.
To open up this idea exchange across the company, we are launching an online IdeaBank, accessible via TribLink.
Going forward, I’d like you to direct your ideas to our IdeaBank, rather than sending them to talktoSam@tribune.com. This will enable others across the county to see them. I will still read and respond to all of the ideas that are submitted, and I still encourage you to e-mail me directly with comments and questions.
The IdeaBank has a crowd-sourcing element, so you can tag ideas you think are particularly good. You can also sort ideas by categories, and we’ll feature the top Revenue-Generating ideas, as determined by their popularity, on the front page of the site. We’re placing special emphasis on revenue-generating ideas because, as you know, that is our current focus. (One reminder: Ideas should cost significantly less than the revenue they produce.)
Most importantly, I want to convey that this is not some lighthearted initiative. I expect you to participate. Make deposits. Make withdrawals. Review the ideas to determine how you might adapt them to your business unit. And, managers, by reviewing and analyzing these ideas, you dramatically increase the probability of their viability.
So, be prolific. The future of our company is literally in your hands.
Sam

(Photo: Reuters)

Sam Zell ‘chastises’ his intern

Tribune Co.’s new owner, billionaire and orator nonpareil Sam Zell, let Chicago Tribune intern Katie Hamilton know exactly what he thought about her recent prank on rival paper the Chicago Sun-Times — one that has produced its fair share of chatter in the Windy City.

Hamilton and her colleagues submitted a music video that they sent to the Sun-Times, which offered a cash prize to whomever could produce the best video protesting Zell’s plan to sell the naming rights to the city’s historic Wrigley Field.

Here’s the memo that Zell sent to Tribune employees and that we got hold of:

Newspapers, more dead than read

h-bomb.jpgMonday brings a fresh wave of despair to the newspaper world as sagacious authors in various media outlets let us know that the economy and the neglect of good citizens are threatening the survival of print journalism.

First up is media columnist David Carr in the New York Times, who wrote on Monday about Sam Zell, Brian Tierney and OhSang Kwon, all of whom bought into papers and have found out that the old devils aren’t what they used to be:

The industry may not be touching bottom any time soon. Last year, overall newspaper revenues dropped by about 7 percent, pushed along primarily by the secular change of readers and advertisers fleeing to the Web. And publishing, along with many other kinds of businesses, is now staring at a full-bore recession, led by the credit crisis that is fanning out across the economy.