SBD/July 31, 2012/Franchises

Haslam Gets Rooneys' Backing In Purchasing Browns; Seen As "Owner In Waiting"

Browns' "perpetual struggles" under Lerner have "taken a toll" on the Cleveland market
Pilot Travel Centers President & CEO and Steelers investor Jimmy Haslam III, who reportedly will purchase the Browns, is "seemingly universally well thought of, he's seen as a principle owner in waiting, and [Steelers Owner the Rooney family], of all NFL dignitaries, supports the move," according to Jason La Canfora of CBSSPORTS.com. The team's "perpetual struggles" under current Owner Randy Lerner "have taken a toll on this football-rabid market, and the league office would love to see the luster of the historic franchise return." Many around Browns HQs “can't help but wonder how drastically all areas of this building could change, and brace for yet another exodus of employees in everything from football operations to marketing.” League sources “continue to anticipate that Haslam will take over for Lerner before the start of the regular season, with the league possibly calling for a special vote on it by late August.” Within the Steelers front office, where Haslam “remains part of the ownership group, for now, it's seen as a relative fait acompli.” Sources said that Haslam also has received “glowing recommendations from the league on bringing in former Eagles team president Joe Banner in the same position.” And while the issue of Banner's precise equity stake “may still need to be resolved, many in the league office expect Banner to end up in Cleveland.” That would “spell the end of [Browns President Mike] Holmgren's regime, and by the end of the season another series of sweeping organizational changes would be afoot.” Sources said that the sale price "will be north of $900 million but less than $1 billion.” Browns GM Tom Heckert said, "This is probably going to happen, it's in the works" (CBSSPORTS.com, 7/30).

FUTBOL OVER FOOTBALL? In Columbus, Michael Arace wrote Lerner "has always been willing to open his wallet (for good or ill), he is making sure the Browns remain in Cleveland after he severs ties and, although he has moved to New York, he will reportedly keep a 30 percent stake in the team.” The perception “has been that Lerner is more interested in his English Premier League soccer club, Aston Villa, and one is hard-pressed to dispel such a notion.” Arace: “This is a chance for smart men to give the Browns direction while also maintaining some continuity." Browns fans "ought to welcome the change” (COLUMBUS DISPATCH, 7/30). In Cleveland, Joel Hammond wrote, “Whatever the reason, Lerner must be in a hurry to get out. Why else throw things into such chaos when the team finally is approaching the stability it's long sought?" For that reason, "while Browns fans may be excited by Haslam's tenure, the new uncertainty surrounding the franchise is cause for concern.” All signs point to Lerner “being desperate to wrap up this process quickly” (CRAINSCLEVELAND.com, 7/30).
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