CHICAGO: Tennessee billionaire Jimmy Haslam has officially been crowned the new owner of the Browns.
NFL owners unanimously approved Haslam’s purchase of the Browns at about 10:40 this morning during their meeting in the Burnham Ballroom at the JW Marriott hotel in downtown Chicago, league spokesman Greg Aiello said. The owners applauded Haslam as they welcomed him to their fraternity.
“Obviously a very exciting day for our family and one that I guess like a lot of families we've dreamed about for a long, long time,” Haslam said during a news conference this afternoon. “And what we've come to understand since Aug. 3 since we were introduced in Berea, Ohio, is that it's made even more special by the fact that it's the Cleveland Browns. I had always heard what a great football town and football area Cleveland and Northeast is, but what we've experienced since Aug. 3 has been nothing short of phenomenal. This is truly one of the great iconic NFL brands, and if you think back to Paul Brown and then, of course, arguable the greatest NFL player of all time, Jim Brown, it’s a very special place. As we have said on numerous occasions, we’re gonna do everything we possibly can and work as hard as we possibly can to bring a winning team to the fans of Cleveland.”
Haslam, whose family owns truck-stop empire Pilot Flying J, only needed 24 of the league’s 32 owners, or three-fourths, to vote in his favor. There was never any doubt he would receive the blessing of his peers.
“He’s a guy who’s committed to doing things right,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said. “He wants to make sure that the Cleveland Browns are represented the right way, that they’re going to have a winning franchise and that they’re a big part of the community. That’s great news for the fans.”
The 58-year-old Haslam struck a deal Aug. 2 to buy the Browns from Randy Lerner for about $1 billion. The sale is expected to close in the next couple of weeks.
Lerner, who became owner after his father, Al, died of brain cancer in 2002, will retain a 30 percent stake in the team for four years before Haslam takes complete control. Lerner did not attend the meeting.
“The Haslam family owes a tremendous debt of gratitude to the Lerner family,” Haslam said. “And if you think back to, first of all, the late Al Lerner, who worked so hard to bring a team back to Cleveland, and we wouldn’t be standing here today if he hadn’t done that. Secondly, his wife, Norma, who has become a great friend of my wife [Dee] and I and has been very gracious in introducing southerners to the Cleveland community and it’s been outstanding. And then lastly to Randy Lerner, who I met for the first time on July 2 and who has worked very closely with us during this transition process. So it’s been a great experience with the Lerner family and we look forward to continuing to work closely with them in the future.”
In 2008, Haslam bought a minority stake in the Pittsburgh Steelers, a reported 12.5 percent. Haslam said he is in the process of divesting his share and expects it to be sold by the end of the year.
“Jimmy Haslam and his family have been great partners in the Steelers ownership for the past three years,” Steelers President Art Rooney II said. “I am sorry that he will be leaving our ownership group, but I am happy the National Football League is going to have a strong new owner. I am sure the Haslam family will bring constructive and able ownership to the Cleveland Browns.”