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.
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 journalists.
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 time around.