BEREA — With the sale of the Cleveland Browns to Tennessee businessman, Jimmy Haslam III for over one billion, the long-suffering fans of the once proud—and currently downtrodden—franchise, may be the biggest winners.
Haslam III, who was a minority investor in the arch-rival Pittsburgh Steelers, will acquire the majority shares of outgoing owner, Randy Lerner for $700 million in the first phase of the deal, and in the second phase pay the remaining $300 million.
The eight-time NFL and AAFC champion Browns would be ranked the 30th most valuable franchise in all of sports by Forbes Magazine with a value at $977 million.
Since their return to the NFL in 1999, the Browns are 68-140, and under Lerner’s ownership—who would inherit the Browns from his late father, Al in 2002—have gone 56-104, two winning seasons—9-7 in 2002 and 10-6 in 2007 and make the playoffs once.
Cleveland would lose to Pittsburgh, 36-33 in the 2002 AFC Wild Card Game at Heinz Field.
One may wonder why a shrewd businessman such as Haslam III would want to buy a team—that may be overvalued to some—and as mediocre as the Browns, the answer may lie in the occupiers of Cleveland Browns Stadium’s 72,000 seats.
Browns fans have passionately supported the team since it’s return and through various debacles such as the infamous “Bottle Gate” incident against the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2001, Dwayne Rudd’s pre-celebratory helmet toss against the Kansas City Chiefs in 2002 and the Turkey Jones-like body slam by Pittsburgh linebacker, James Harrison of a fan, in a Steelers 41-0 thrashing at home in 2005.
Outside of the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh, Cleveland has the most loyal fanbase in the NFL, that buys merchandise in the form of jerseys, hats and shows up to support a team that can be mistaken for a Pop Warner league squad on Sundays.
With it’s fan support group, Browns Backers Worldwide, iron-clad stadium lease that runs through 2029 and steady TV revenue, Haslam got a sweetheart deal.
In Haslam, Cleveland finally has a owner that is a real football owner who will be “1000 percent” dedicated to focusing solely on the Browns and not some second-tier relegation-bound soccer team across the pond, the way Lerner was with his beloved Aston Villa.
It may take a while for the Dawg Pound to accept that Haslam was a self-proclaimed fan of the hated Steelers, anyone who has had the fortune to be associated with world-class ownership such as the Rooney’s proves that this sale is a win-win for both the fans and the win-starved Browns franchise, that needed an infusion of real ownership.
In terms of Haslam being a supporter of a hated rival, Dan Gilbert was a fan of the rival Detroit Pistons before becoming majority owner the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2005, and that turned out pretty well.
Haslam’s more “hands-on” approach to football, as opposed to the much-maligned Lerner’s disinterest is a breath of much needed fresh air and the reason why many Browns fans—such as myself—feel that this sale will prove to be worth every penny.
Robert D. Cobb is the NBA Network Manager for Rant Media Network, Featured Writer of the Cleveland Cavaliers, and Featured Columnist for the Cleveland Browns and Arsenal Gunners.
In addition to covering the NBA, I also cover MLB, NFL, NHL and Champions League soccer news, rumors and opinions, please follow me on Twitter at @RobertCobb_76