Sources: Browns sold for over $1B
Randy Lerner has reached a deal to sell the Cleveland Browns to truck-stop magnate Jimmy Haslam.
The deal is worth more than $1 billion, league sources said.
The sale of the Browns is laid out in two parts. Haslam will take over controlling interest of the Browns for more than $700 million. Then, in the second phase of the purchase, he will pay more than $300 million to complete the deal.
"This is a very exciting time for my family and me," Haslam said through the team in a statement Thursday announcing the agreement between the sides.
"To own such a storied franchise as the Cleveland Browns, with its rich tradition and history, is a dream come true. We are committed to keeping the team in Cleveland and seeing it get back to the elite of the NFL -- something all Browns fans want and deserve."
Paperwork between the two sides was completed Thursday morning.
NFL ownership is expected to approve Haslam's purchase at its October meeting. Commissioner Roger Goodell could expedite the process by calling a special meeting, although that is considered unlikely.
The NFL helped bring Haslam to Lerner so that a sale could be completed smoothly, efficiently and with a high probability of success. Haslam had informed the league how much he wanted to buy a team, and Lerner -- who is more interested in his soccer team (Aston Villa in England) -- was interested in selling the Browns.
Haslam is president and CEO of Knoxville, Tenn.-based Pilot Flying J, the largest operator of travel centers and travel plazas in North America with more than 550 retail locations. He is the older brother of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, who also worked for the family business before he was elected mayor of Knoxville in 2003 and again in 2007, then governor in 2010.
The Browns have been owned by the Lerner family since 1999, when the franchise was reborn after the original club moved to Baltimore. The late Al Lerner, Randy's father, purchased the inactive franchise from the NFL in 1998 for $530 million.
Randy Lerner, 50, inherited the Browns in 2002 following his father's death.
Some fans have been unhappy with Randy Lerner, long criticizing him as a disengaged owner of a club that has made the playoffs just once since it was recreated.
Haslam has been a minority investor in the Pittsburgh Steelers and in a 2010 profile told the team's website that he had been a Dallas Cowboys and then an Indianapolis Colts fan. But with the Pittsburgh investment, Haslam said he had become "1,000 percent a Steelers fan." The Steelers, of course, are the Browns' chief rivals.
Asked if he was surprised by the deal, Browns president Mike Holmgren said: "On one hand, the surprising part was the time of the year. But in this business, I gave up being surprised a long time ago."
Haslam has begun to make plans with the Rooney family to sell the portion of the Steelers that he owns. By the time his purchase of the Browns becomes official, he no longer is expected to own the percentage of the Steelers that he controls.
As for Haslam possibly moving the franchise, Holmgren emphatically said, "The Cleveland Browns aren't going anywhere."
But the current staff might be if the Browns don't do better than the 4-12 record of 2011, Pat Shurmur's first season as coach. New owners usually bring in their own management team, although Shurmur has impressed many people around the league.
"I have no fear about any of that because I trust my coaches, I trust the players and I've watched the work they've done based on the conversation of this last week," Shurmur said Thursday. "I think we're moving full steam ahead. That doesn't bother me one bit at this point at this point. My concern is getting this team ready to play and our players understand that message and they are doing a good job."
Holmgren would not address his future with the Browns.
"Honestly, my focus is to have guys here concentrating on football, making it business as usual," he said. "The what ifs and hypotheticals, I have to stay away from."
The Browns were valued at $977 million last year by Forbes magazine, 20th in the NFL.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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