SBD/July 30, 2012/Franchises

Randy Lerner's Sale Of The Browns To Haslam Could Be Completed As Early As August

Lerner's (l) sale of the team could mean a front office shakeup is on the way
Browns Owner Randy Lerner's sale of the team to Pilot Travel Centers President & CEO and Steelers investor Jimmy Haslam III "could be approved before the start of the regular season in September, and former Eagles President Joe Banner is an integral part of the Haslam group," according to NFL sources cited by Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland PLAIN DEALER. Banner's involvement "could mean the Browns are in for another front-office shakeup." A source said that transfer of ownership "could be as early as August." The deal is "close enough that the owners could approve of it during a special meeting next month." If things "move that fast in this transaction -- and all indications are they will -- Haslam can reasonably expect to take over a month after the deal is signed." One reason it can "close so quickly is that the NFL helped broker the deal and paired Haslam with Banner." Haslam has "already passed the NFL's rigorous investigation into his background and finances required when he purchased" a stake in the Steelers in '08. Cabot wrote Lerner walked out onto the practice field Saturday morning with Browns President Mike Holmgren "to watch the first day of training camp, and it felt like a farewell." He walked over and "shook hands with [head coach Pat] Shurmur and [GM Tom] Heckert, and then watched most of practice with other members of the front office and staff" (Cleveland PLAIN DEALER, 7/29). FORBES.com's Mike Ozanian cited a source as saying Haslam is purchasing the team "for $920 million." Lerner had been "looking for between $1 billion and $1.1 billion for the team his father purchased" for $530M in '98. Forbes last August valued the Browns at $977M, "20th out of the league’s 32 teams" (FORBES.com, 7/27).

CLEVELAND ROCKS: The PLAIN DEALER's Cabot on Saturday noted Lerner "refused to even enter into negotiations with Haslam until he had a personal guarantee he'd never uproot the team." Browns General Counsel & Special Counsel to the President Fred Nance said, "(Lerner) has an unequivocal commitment from Haslam to never move the Browns. He made that a prerequisite before entering into negotiations." Nance added Haslam "provided the commitment without hesitation." When asked what would stop Haslam from moving the team, Nance replied, "Read the lease" (Cleveland PLAIN DEALER, 7/28). Holmgren said of Lerner, "He's an emotional guy. He loves this place. He cares deeply. Anything like this is going to be a very tough, emotional decision." Holmgren said that Lerner and his son, Max, have "moved back to New York after living in Cleveland last year" (Lorain MORNING JOURNAL, 7/29). Heckert said that the news "has affected the front office and other members of the organization." He said, "It affects a lot of people's lives. Right now, we can't worry about it. We're focused on the football team" (AKRON BEACON JOURNAL, 7/29). Meanwhile, in Pittsburgh, Gerry Dulac noted the Browns "might be bought by a member of the Steelers ownership group who is a self-described ardent Steelers fan." Haslam's purchase of the Browns is a "move that likely would force Haslam to divest his interest in the Steelers." Haslam is "one of 10 minority owners who purchased stock from members of the Rooney family when the team reorganized its ownership structure" in '09 (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 7/28).

THE RIGHT MOVE: In Akron, Marla Ridenour wrote if Lerner's sale "goes through, the fate of the Browns’ franchise is as uncertain as the futures" of Holmgren and Shurmur. But the deal "has the potential to give Browns fans what they deserve -- a team run by two men at the top who are all in." It might give fans an owner "who isn’t afraid to step in front of the television cameras when a crisis arises or when the team is floundering, or even when it’s not." It could give them an owner "who wants to be in the public eye, rather than a security-conscious one who lurks in the periphery, visible mainly on Sundays as he slipped into his box or visited the post-game locker room." None of those things "could be said of Lerner, who always seemed uncomfortable in his role, which he was thrust into after his father, Al, died" in '02. His passion "for the Browns and their fans could never be questioned." He tried to "do the right thing, and spent all the money he could to do it." But his good intentions "were undone by questionable hires, especially when it came to coaches." He had to "tire of the long and frustrating process of building a winner." As financially stable "as the Browns have been under Lerner," the organization "has never operated as efficiently or as professionally as outsiders would presume." With a possible sale to Haslam, the Browns "could be turned around, both on the field and off" (AKRON BEACON JOURNAL, 7/28). SI.com's Peter King writes Haslam "will have to become more hands-on than Lerner was." Lerner "badly wanted someone to come in and just take the headache that was the reconstruction of the Browns off his hands" (SI.com, 7/30).

STICKING WITH VILLA
: In Cleveland, Tom Reed cited sources as saying that although Lerner is selling the Browns, there "appears no such plan afoot" for his ownership of EPL club Aston Villa. As the club "slipped in the EPL standings the past two years and management slashed payroll, some have questioned Lerner's desire to compete." Aston Villa "barely averted relegation in the spring, and the side reported combined losses" of more than $130M million for the seasons of '09-10 and '10-11 (Cleveland PLAIN DEALER, 7/28).
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