Since his father Al died in 2002, Browns owner Randy Lerner has seemed like the reluctant head of the football team he grew up passionately following.
The question of his devotion to the business was fully exposed Friday when he confirmed in a statement that he is currently in negotiations with James A. “Jimmy” Haslam III to sell an ‘interest” in the franchise. The statement did not say whether it would be controlling interest.
A University of Tennessee graduate, Haslam is president and chief executive officer of Pilot Travel Centers. Since 2009, he has owned a minority stake in the Pittsburgh Steelers, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel. That agreement was reached in December, 2008, according to profootballtalk.com.
Haslam would have to sell those shares to purchase all or part of the Browns, an NFL spokesman confirmed.
According to a 2011 story in the Knoxville News Sentinel, Haslam has worked for full-time for Pilot, founded by his father, Jim, since August, 1976. Jimmy Haslam’s wife Dee is CEO of RIVR Media Interactive, a television production company whose shows have appeared on Animal Planet, the DIY Network and HGTV, according to the News Sentinel.
Lerner’s statement was in response to a story first reported on ESPN 850 Cleveland Friday morning.
“In connection with current rumors and press inquiries, I can report that I’ve been approached by Mr. Jimmy Haslam, who is interested in making an investment in the Cleveland Browns,” Lerner said in the statement. “We are currently in negotiations and both sides have agreed to keep that dialogue and its details private. Given that any transaction would require League approval, care has been taken so that this process will not be disruptive to the organization, in particular the football team, as it prepares for the upcoming season. We will share further details or make an announcement if it becomes necessary.”
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the league was aware of the discussions, but referred further questions to the Browns.
The league has a process in place for the transfer of ownership. It usually starts with the Finance Committee, then is brought before general ownership. Potential owners are also subject to background checks, but because Haslam went through that in his acquisition of Steelers’shares, it would not be as extensive.
The league could convene a special meeting to approve any sale. It is next scheduled to meet in October.
NFL rules prohibit interests in multiple teams in different markets, but do not preclude a football owner buying stakes in baseball or basketball teams, for example, in the same city.