SBJ/March 18-24, 2013/Franchises

Haslam’s due diligence included study of concussions issue

Jimmy Haslam’s purchase of the Cleveland Browns included significant due diligence regarding one of the greatest challenges currently facing the game of football: the liability that concussions might pose to the sport.

Last year’s Browns sale was the first NFL franchise transaction since the issue of concussions has exploded so forcefully into the nation’s consciousness, and as more and more former NFL players sign on to litigation against the league regarding the matter.

“When we started doing our due diligence, this was a concern,” Haslam said. “I think we feel very good there is no smoking gun that is going to come back like there was in cigarettes. Everyone I have talked to, and I have talked to all kinds of people, feels very good there is no kind of suppressed evidence.”

The thousands of retirees suing the league contend the NFL hid evidence of the dangers posed by concussions. Many of those lawsuits have been consolidated into one case, filed in a Philadelphia court. The league is seeking dismissal of that complaint.

Haslam declined to identify the individuals with whom he spoke on the subject, but he said there were between 10 and 20 people ranging from other owners to people specifically versed in the medical matter.

“The challenge for the NFL is the proper balance,” Haslam said. “Face it: Football is a violent game, and every player who signs up for it understands that, and that is part of why it is so popular. And still, protecting the players from head injuries [is crucial].”

Haslam would not have valued the Browns, in the bottom-quarter of NFL teams by revenue, at his purchase price of $1.1 billion if he thought concussions could sock him and the league’s other owners with huge legal payouts. In fact, from his discussions with the NFL, and considering the aggressive growth rates the league has established, he feels the value of the Browns could double in the first 10 years of his ownership.

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