Majority ownership in the Cleveland Browns is close to being sold to a new owner. Ideastream's Michelle Kanu reports the prospective buyer is a Tennessee businessman--with some stake in another football team that Browns fans despise.
James Haslam operates over 300 retail stores and owns 235 Pilot Travel Centers around the country. The 55 year old executive also has a minority ownership in the Pittsburgh Steelers.
At a press conference following the announcement-provided courtesy of WEWS channel 5--team president Mike Holmgren said the deal is still being worked out, and he's not sure when the sale will be finalized. But he says the team's current owner, Randy Lerner, will likely retain some partial ownership.
Holmgren: "He is giving up a controlling interest in the team. That's what I can say. As details come out we can elaborate a little bit more."
The Browns have a 30 year lease with the city of Cleveland to play all home games at Cleveland Brown Stadium through 2029. Holmgren quelled fans' fears about the team potentially leaving the city.
Holmgren: "It's my understanding that, from the get go, that's been one of the stipulations and both principals understand that. The Cleveland Browns aren't going anywhere. The Cleveland Browns are the Cleveland Browns and they're here to stay."
The news comes on the same day when the Browns are on their first day training for the new season. A new owner would bring fresh eyes and leadership to a team that has struggled to eke out a winning season over the last several years.
Bud Shaw, sports columnist for the Cleveland Plain dealer says a new owner could mean a shake-up of the team president and coaching staff.
Shaw: "I think in short term, a new owner might come in and want his own team president, and Mike Holmgren might prefer it that way since he'd be working with a different person than the one who he agreed to a contract with."
Holmgren came on board with the Browns at the end of 2009. When pressed about whether he plans to finish out his five year contract, Holmgren wouldn't give specifics about his future.
Holmgren: "To me a contract's a contract. I've tried to be honest with you. But right now I'm the president of the team and that's how I'm operating."
Some sports enthusiasts are excited by the kind of enthusiasm and expertise that Haslam could bring from his stake in the Steelers to the Browns franchise. Again, Bud Shaw:
Shaw: "I think there is some optimism that a guy who is invested in football and who wants to win the team would be coming in here with the idea of changing the atmosphere here and turning the Cleveland Browns into the successful franchise that the Pitt Steelers have been for so many years."
Plain Dealer sports writer Terry Pluto says if this deal goes through, the prospective buyer Jimmy Haslam has a lot to gain in advertisement for his businesses and bragging rights.
Pluto: "If you happen to buy this team and turn it around and even get it to be just a 500 or a winning team, you'll be looked at in Cleveland as a savior."
Pluto says Clevelanders are excited by the path the Browns have been on recently. They acquired a new quarterback and running back through the latest NFL draft picks, and are hoping that will propel the team to a stronger season this fall.