Zell’s Zeal For Deals

If there’s one quality Sam Zell has displayed as CEO of the privatized Tribune Co., it’s a sense of humor, and that attribute could come in handy as the company attempts to manage $13 billion of debt.

After Tribune Co. reported fourth-quarter losses last month, Zell said in a statement that the newspaper and television conglomerate had "begun a strategic review of certain Tribune assets to determine whether capital can be more effectively redeployed into our core operations or toward reducing our outstanding leverage."

Specifically, the company’s Chicago Cubs baseball team, its home stadium Wrigley Field and its naming rights, as well as Newsday newspaper are just a few of the assets that have been floated for the auction block.

According to analysts, selling off those assets may be essential to keeping Tribune Co. from defaulting on its credit at this point, the New York Times reported.

But at least Zell can keep a good attitude about the whole thing.

In an April 1st press release, Tribune Co. joked that "to remind employees of how important it is that the company increase revenue in order to meet its considerable debt payments, the company has installed debt-o-meters at each of its business units and on the company Web site."

And in the same release, Zell even addressed the uproar over the possible sale of the venerable Chicago ballpark, claiming he’d gone out and sold the naming rights to the Tribune Tower instead.

"While everyone was wringing their hands and worrying about renaming Wrigley Field, I went out and got a great company to put its product’s name right over the main entrance to this great building," he said.

Of course, April Fool’s jokes are for the foolish and, as of yet, the company hasn’t confirmed either statement.

On the other hand, Tribune Co. has made some interesting hires recently, appointing several former radio and music executives.

Former XM Satellite Radio CCO Lee Abrams, as well as Clear Channel radio execs Randy Michaels, Jerry Kersting, Marc Chase, Steve Gable and Sean Compton have entered the company under Zell’s watch, according the Wall Street Journal.

Abrams, who’s reportedly known for his use of a "cliché buzzer," told the paper radio has been forced to reinvent itself over the years, and other media can use the same principles when facing competition.

"We know how to have a good time," Abrams said. "But we also know how to change and reinvent things, or at least motivate people to do that."

That could come in handy for Tribune Co.

Talks to sell the Cubs, Wrigley Field and Newsday have slowed, the Times reported, because Zell has requested that buyers use non-cash payments such as real estate transfers to minimize the company’s capital gains taxes. So in the meantime, Tribune Co. may have to put more emphasis on broadcasting efforts to strengthen the company’s standings.