Last month, Crain's Chicago Business reported that the process of selling the Cubs was moving forward with all the pace of an Eephus pitch and that the team "looks likely to stay in Tribune hands well into next year...possibly through Opening Day."

Now there's a reason to suspect that the sale of Tribune Company, itself, might not happen anytime soon.

According to Broadcasting & Cable, if, "in the next couple weeks," Tribune Company can't get the FCC to waive its rule prohibiting one corporation from owning a broadcast station and a daily newspaper in the same city, "the financing would unravel, Tribune would be auctioned off in parts, and it would be the end of the company."

When the Tribune and funny-beard-wearing billionaire Sam Zell struck their deal last April, it was assumed that FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, no fan of the cross-ownership prohibition, would be able to get the rule changed altogether.

Thanks to political maneuvering and schedule-changing by folks on Capitol Hill, however, Martin has been unable to bring the issue to a vote before the FCC, and he may not be able to do so before mid-November. That makes the issuance of the FCC waiver--right away--critical. According to a Tribune Company executive, mid-November is a "drop-dead date" after which $4.2 billion in financing from investors will simply walk.

(Note: the company's ownership of the Tribune and WGN, which pre-dated the rule, was grandfathered in; in other markets like Los Angeles and Hartford, TribCo received the necessary waivers when purchasing the Times Mirror Co. The grandfathering and waivers do not survive transfers of ownership, however.)

How does all of this impact the Cubs?

If the Zell deal falls apart, I would think Tribune Company's first priority will once again be trying to find a buyer for its core newspaper properties. The selling off of secondary properties, like the Cubs and Wrigley Field and Tribune's share of Comcast Sportsnet, would wait until the larger deal was completed.

In other words, for the forseeable future, all of those prospective buyers will just have to admire the owner's box from afar.

I wonder if anyone has asked John Canning if he'd like to own a newspaper.


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