However, News Corp. blocked Disney's effort by purchasing the Los Angeles Dodgers and locking up TV rights that were essential to sustaining a regional sports channel.
Both Disney and News Corp. have since sold their teams, acknowledging that they lacked strategic merit. Today, Tribune is one of two corporate owners left in baseball.
Corporate ownership has lost luster for other reasons. As an operating asset of any large media conglomerate, a sports team is generally small potatoes. The Cubs' operating revenue, estimated at less than $200 million a year, amounted to 3.5% of Tribune's total revenue of $5.6 billion in 2005.
Professional sports teams tend to attract disproportionate negative attention from the media, the public and shareholders, especially when a high-profile player is involved. In 2005, for example Tribune disclosed that the Cubs' trade of slugger Sammy Sosa to the Baltimore Orioles had reduced its quarterly profit by $13.5 million, or 3 cents a share, because of a contract technicality.
One question actively debated in the sports world is whether the Cubs would perform better under private, rather than corporate, ownership. Although the team has spent generously -- its 2006 opening-day payroll of $94.4 million ranked seventh in the league -- corporate managers are prevented from the no-holds-barred investments that often spell victory.
"Overall, the Cubs haven't won, and I don't think there's a better metric," said Andrew Zimbalist, an economist at Smith College and author of a 2006 examination of Selig's leadership entitled "In the Best Interest of Baseball?" "On balance, it hasn't been a successful ownership."
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Wrigley Field capacity: 41,118
Average attendance (home games through June 19): 39,696
Average ticket price: $34.30
Ticket price rank: No. 2 (after Boston Red Sox)
Opening day payroll: $94.4 million (7th highest)
Current place in National League Central: 5th
Last World Series appearance: 1945
Last World Series title: 1908
Sources: Times research