Due diligence underway for
all of Tribune, as Hartford group forms to buy Courant
A group of about
eight wealthy business leaders from the Connecticut area held a
brainstorming meeting to save their hometown paper.
As the bidding
war for Tribune Publishing heats up, groups of investors
are quietly forming allegiances on the sidelines in hopes of snagging
newspaper assets expected to be sold off in the process.
The latest group to emerge as potential buyers for a piece of the publisher
behind the Chicago Tribune, the New York Daily News, the Baltimore Sun and
six other dailies have their eye on the Hartford Courant, sources said.
The group of about eight wealthy business leaders from the Connecticut area
held a brainstorming meeting Monday afternoon to save their hometown paper,
which traces its roots to a weekly newspaper founded in 1764, making it
older than the nation itself, sources said.
The meeting came about shortly after Tribune said it would allow the
billionaire team of hotel mogul Stewart Bainum and Swiss-born investor
Hansjörg Wyss to examine Tribune’s books with an eye toward making a rival
offer for the newspaper giant that has already been approved to be sold
to hedge fund Alden Global Capital.
If Bainum and Wyss succeed in their $680.8 million cash offer of $18.50 a
share, they are expected to seek to keep some papers, including the Chicago
Tribune and the Baltimore Sun, and sell off the rest.
Of the publishing giant’s nine daily newspapers, only the 101-year-old New
York Daily News appears to be without a date to the dance as no known buyers
appear to have discussed plans to buy it — despite supermarket mogul John
Catsimatidis telling The Post he
might be interested.
Of course, anyone looking to pounce on a Tribune paper has to wait until the
Bainum/Wyss group, which made their offer through their Newslight entity,
completes due diligence and either agrees to a deal or walks away.
If they choose the latter, Alden will be free to buy Tribune for $17.25 a
share, a deal that values the company at $630 million.
Either way, any bid has to be for the entire company, not bits and pieces,
said a source close to the special committee of directors for Tribune that
is advising the board. That means all suitors for local titles will not be
allowed to look at the actual financials until a tentative deal is reached —
either with Alden or Newslight.
Newslight’s due diligence is expected to take “at least two weeks — maybe a
little longer,” said a source close to the situation.
“Hopefully, we will get the opportunity to bid,” said a potential investor
with the Hartford Group, who said local business leaders he talked to were
kicking around what business model to pursue.
”It was a question of what do we need and how do we get there,” he told
Media Ink. He said investors’ reasons for joining the group ranged from
civic-mindedness to stock market earnings that need a place to be parked to
offset capital gains.
The Hartford Courant is among the Tribune newspapers that no longer has a
newsroom, eliminating real estate costs. And even before the pandemic hit,
the Courant had outsourced its printing to a plant in Massachusetts.
“There hasn’t been a lot of capital investment under Tribune, so the
question is what kind of investment will be needed to make it successful in
the future,” this person said.
Sources said they expect Hartford to sell for more than the $30 million to
$40 million a group headed by Gary Lutin reportedly said it was willing to
pay for the Allentown Morning Call, but less than the $65 million that
Bainum had originally said he’d be willing to pay to buy the Baltimore Sun
and several smaller papers in Maryland, including the Capital Gazette.
Bainum’s initial plan was to buy the Maryland papers from Alden if their bid
was successful. But then he teamed up with Wyss
to buy the whole shebang.
Previously in the mix was a group from AIM Media, headed by Jeremy Halbreich,
with backing from private equity firm TriveCapital, that fell about $154
million short of the Alden bid, sources said. The Halbreich bid would have
paid only $15 a share.
Halbreich has been in the hunt for Tribune before, teaming up with investor
Will Wyatt in 2019 to try to buy the publishing company with a mind to
busting it up and selling off local papers. It was speculated at the time
that his ultimate target was the chain’s flagship newspaper in Chicago.
Stewart Bainum and
Hansjörg Wyss are expected to seek to keep some papers,
including the Chicago Tribune and the Baltimore Sun, and sell
off the rest.
If Halbreich were to eye the Chicago Tribune again in a bust-up, it
could put him in competition with Wyss, the medical device billionaire
who has also said he’d be interested in owning the Chicago daily.
All of the papers in the Tribune lineup have local bidders waiting in the
wings, except for the Daily News. In Florida, the third-biggest stockholder
in Tribune, Mason Slaine, has said he’d like to buy the Orlando Sentinel and
the Fort Lauderdale-based South Florida Sun Sentinel. And at least one other
potential suitor is said to be interested in the Orlando Sun.
Keeping the Daily News in the cold: pension liabilities estimated to be
around $100 million owed to the pressmen, drivers and some long-retired
Catsimatidis, the supermarket mogul behind Gristedes and D’Agostino,
initially said he might be interested in taking a look after passing on a
chance to buy it from then-owner Mort Zuckerman several years ago. But he
has so far remained on the sidelines.
Tribune assumed the New York tabloid’s pension liabilities but paid only $1
for the paper itself in 2017. No other potential bidders have surfaced this
© 2021 NYP HOLDINGS, INC.