New Browns owner Jimmy Haslam’s introductory news conference opened this afternoon with Browns President Mike Holmgren presenting the Haslam family to the media. Haslam’s father, Jim Haslam Jr., and his wife, Dee, attended the news conference. Haslam, wearing a Browns pin on his blue suit and an orange tie, stood the entire time instead of sitting behind the microphone.
In his opening statement, he vowed to keep the Browns in Cleveland.
“I can’t tell you how excited our family is to be part of Cleveland and more important the Cleveland Browns,” he said. “I know there’s some people who think that maybe we might want to move the team out of Cleveland, and I can assure you there is zero chance of that happening.
"We have one mission and one mission only and that’s to bring winning back to Cleveland. OK? And that’s the sole thing we’re focused on, and I want everybody to know it an understand it. If you don’t know us yet, we’re gonna spend time here this afternoon. We’re gonna be here a lot, and you’ll have the opp to get to know us. But we’re really excited about the opportunity to bring a winning team back to Cleveland.”
Here are some other highlights:
- Haslam said the first time he ever met Randy Lerner was July 2. The two have since spent a lot of time together in person and on the phone. Haslam said he jumped at the chance to enter negotiations with Lerner when he heard the Browns might be for sale.
“We’ve had a relationship with that other team down the road that wears black and gold that we used to be 1,000 percent for, but we’re not anymore. When we got involved with that other team, we let the owners of that other team and the league know that if we ever had the chance to become the majority of a team, we would have interest. They called us in May and said it looks like the team may become available, but they wouldn’t tell us who. And in late June, when they told us it was the Cleveland Browns we were fired up to the max because we’ve had an opportunity to see how important football is to this community and how great and how passionate the fans are. … We’re really excited about the opportunity to bring a winning team back to Cleveland.”
- Haslam declined to comment on his future personnel decisions. Former Philadelphia Eagles President Joe Banner is a part of Haslam’s ownership group, according to NFL Network and several other media outlets, though Haslam would not confirm the reports about Banner.
- Haslam said he’s confident he can lead Browns to a turnaround because of what he’s done in the business world.
“I hate to refer back to our business track record -- that’s all I know,” Haslam said. “If you look at our main company, Pilot Flying J, we’ve been in business 53 years. We have a very, very senior group of management, a very set culture, and that’s how we plan on doing it here. We’re going to devote whatever time necessary it takes to get things right in Cleveland. I believe we’re on the right path now. We’re going to take whatever steps necessary to bring winning football back to Cleveland.”
- NFL owners are not scheduled to meet again until October, but there’s a possibility they’ll gather sooner to approve Haslam’s purchase of the Browns. Haslam, though, said he doesn’t know if a meeting will be called earlier by Commissioner Roger Goodell.
“I have no idea,” Haslam said. “I’ve heard speculation it could happen sooner, but in our minds it will happen when the regular league vote happens in October and we’re going to focus that way.”
- Haslam was asked if the Browns were a good buy for $1 billion.
“When you buy an NFL franchise you have to set normal flow multiples aside and look at it differently,” he said. “Having been involved in the Steelers, that investment was a positive one for us and we’re sold on the NFL. With the new Collective Bargaining Agreement in place, the new TV contract, and with a great iconic storied franchise like this, we do think it’s a large investment. Our main business, Pilot Flying J, is our largest family investment. But this is our second largest family investment and we’re going to take it very serious. We also feel very good about it, we really do.”
- Haslam said he and his wife, Dee, will buy a home in Cleveland and split time between Northeast Ohio and Tennessee. He’ll still serve as the CEO of Pilot Flying J.
“I think you’ll find we’re pretty transparent open people,” Haslam said. “Our main home will be in Knoxville. Dee is leaving as soon as the press conference is over to go look at homes here in Cleveland. We’ll split our time between Knoxville and Cleveland. I’m still going to be CEO of Pilot Flying J. It’s a big company and I spend a pretty good amount of time running that. We’ll take whatever time necessary in Cleveland to do two things, one to bring a winner back here and number two, to become part of the Cleveland community.”
- Haslam bought a minority share of the Steelers in 2008, and he must divest his interest in the team before his purchase of the Browns becomes official. Haslam said he wants to restore the rivalry between the Browns and the Steelers.
“Our main goal is to return that to a real rivalry,” he said. “The Rooneys are everything you’ve ever heard and read that they are. They’re class people, they do things right. I take no credit for the four years that we were there, but two Super Bowls, won one, playoffs three years, and they do things the right way. They have the Steeler way of doing things; we will now have the Browns way of doing things. They build through the draft. Those are the things I’ve learned there. I’ll also say this, I have absolutely no trouble wearing orange and brown now. I took my Steeler watch off yesterday and put my Browns watch on today. We’re fired up. Art [Rooney] and I talked yesterday and we’ll remain good friends. The last thing he says is, ‘I’m going to have to learn to hate you on Sundays.’”
- Haslam is a native of Knoxville, Tenn., and his younger brother, Bill, is the governor of the family’s home state. But Haslam won’t have a problem facing the Tennessee Titans.
“Dad played football at the University of Tennessee, so we’ve been around football all our lives,” Haslam said. “I think anybody who likes athletics and particularly likes football and has had some success in business thinks, ‘Man it would be pretty awesome to own an NFL franchise.’ We’ve actually had that in our mind for several years. When we got involved in the Steelers, which was a great opportunity, we kind of learned and observed and to meet a lot of people around the league. That was the first step in getting us to where we are here today.
“I will have absolutely no problem against the Tennessee Titans, just like I didn’t when we were with the Steelers. The governor of Tennessee may feel a little bit different, but he’s not part of this transaction.”
- Haslam said he plans to be visible to the fans and media.
“I think our style is gonna be involved,” Haslam said. “I you’ll find that we’re open and transparent. Having a brother and a very close friend in high roles in politics rightly or wrongly reduced to the public scrutiny of being in the public eye, and I think you’ll find us to be pretty available, pretty transparent think. I’ll be honest, we’ll be out there selling the Cleveland Browns all the time.
“I was talking to Mike [Holmgren], and Wednesday night we have a practice at the stadium, and it’s for fan appreciation. OK? To me, it’s important for me to be there, greet people, shake hands. I don’t want to do anything to distract Pat and the team because that to me is the biggest story, not us. Hopefully we’re a one-day story, then it goes back to about football. But we do plan on being present. I thought about the first exhibition game, why don’t we just sit in the stands instead of sitting in the owners box. See what the facility feels like sitting as a quote regular fan.”
- When asked how active he’ll be in terms of football decisions, Haslam said he has a lot to learn.
“I think it’ll be a learning curve, right?” Haslam said. “I mean you’ve got a guy [Holmgren] that’s won a Super Bowl over there that’s gonna be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame that’s a legend. So I’ll be honest. There’s fan part of me, too. So last night, I was looking forward to dinner and meeting Mike. He’s also a guy that I thought a lot of. So we’re gonna ask a lot of questions and learn it first, and I’m a believer in collecting wisdom. … We’re gonna take some time to get up to speed before we get real involved in any football decisions. It’ll probably come a little quicker on the business side.
“My sense is -- and I've been in the Cleveland community one say, so I don't pretend to be an expert -- but I sense there's a strong feeling here that Mike and the team do have things headed in the right direction. So I just think we've got to listen, learn and observe and in football you either win or lose, so there's not a question, well how'd we do? I think over time, these guys will be successful.”
- Haslam hopes to offer hope to a city that has not won a major championship since 1964.
“There are no easy games in the NFL,” Haslam said. “We’re in a tough division, OK. Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati’s getting better, OK. And so all I can tell you is we’re going to come to work every day – and these guys are already doing it, OK – we’re going to come to work every day with a mission to get better. I think they got things going the right way. I fully understand – my wife said everybody’s so nice to us. I said we’ll see how long that lasts – let’s be realistic, it’s all about winning. If we win, things are going to get better. There’s no reason why this can’t be a winning franchise. I mean, everything’s here, right. There’s no reason. If they don’t, I’ll accept the blame. It’s our fault, we didn’t execute like we should. I mean, every other piece is in place here. quick fan base, you’ve got the money you need, we just got to execute.”
- Haslam was asked whether he’s in favor of uniform changes and naming rights and whether Browns fans should expect a culture shock.
“Will we have naming rights?” Haslam said. “Probably at some time. Will we change the uniforms? I don’t know. But it is a marketing world we live in. Let’s be realistic about that. I don’t associate that with culture, though. I think they’re distinctly different. People may agree or disagree, but that’s our philosophy. In our business world, we changed the logo and our design or our stores multiple times over the years, but the basic culture and core beliefs – what we call our Pilot Flying J values – stay the same. Hopefully that helps you.”
- Haslam said he’s ready for the passion of Cleveland fans.
“That’s a great question,” Haslam said. “I’m going to say I am and we know what we’re getting into. But I’ve had several NFL owners tell me you cannot believe the highs and the lows. And I will say this, being a limited owner, it’s a little bit different because last year that other team would lose a tough game on the last play and I might be upset Sunday night but Monday I’m back at my regular job. I have a feeling this will linger a little bit longer. But that’s part of it. We’re competitive and we’ll be looking forward to the opportunities. Let me just say one thing, it’s that passion you talk about here that we like. I grew up in Knoxville, which is a college football town – both teams wear orange, ironically, OK – and we had that same passion and I understand that the spirit and mood of the city rises and falls with how the browns do. It’s our job to keep it up more than down.
- Haslam said football made an impact on his life when he was a youngster.
“Dad played football at Tennessee, so we grew up in an athletic background,” Haslam said. “He was a great dad. Super Bowl, World Series, you know I've been to every kind of athletic event as has my brother that you can go to. I was raised in high school sports, was not good enough to play college sports, but have been in that environment, all the time and I'm a firm believer in athletics. I have an intern every year that's a college kid and the prerequisites are this: No. 1 had to play high school sports, because I think that competitive aspect comes through, and I think it's important in business. Business is just as competitive as football or whatever. I think football and this might offend some people: I think it's the best team sport there is because you're relying on the other 10 guys and if one guys doesn't do his job, the play's not going to work, and I think it's a great team sport and as I said earlier, the NFL is the premier sports league in the world.”