BEREA: Tennessee businessman Jimmy Haslam III will visit the Browns’ headquarters today to oversee what he hopes is his next empire.
On Thursday, Haslam reached an agreement to buy the Browns from Randy Lerner. The deal must now be approved by the NFL’s finance committee and 75 percent of the league’s owners.
The 58-year-old Haslam, president and CEO of truck-stop chain Pilot Flying J, will hold his introductory news conference at 1 p.m. today at the Browns’ training facility.
“This is a very exciting time for my family and me,” Haslam said in a statement. “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.
“We plan to bring relentless dedication and hard work to every aspect of this organization, and we look forward to getting to know this team and community as quickly as possible. Our family is committed to becoming an integral part of the Cleveland community. We also want to thank Randy Lerner for his friendship, counsel and support during this process.”
ESPN reported the sale is for more than $1 billion, and it will be broken down into two phases with Haslam initially obtaining controlling interest in the team for about $700 million then eventually paying about $300 million to complete the deal. The Associated Press reported Haslam will obtain Lerner’s 30 percent stake in the team four years after the closing date. Lerner will retain part of the team at the onset as a method to pay money owed to former coaches and executives of the franchise, Browns radio play-by-play man and WKYC sports anchor Jim Donovan reported Saturday.
The 50-year-old Lerner took control of the Browns in 2002 after his father, Al, died of brain cancer. Al Lerner purchased the team in 1998 for $530 million.
Last week, Lerner confirmed he was in negotiations with Haslam. Lerner released the following statement Thursday evening to announce a deal had been struck:
“On behalf of my family and as trustee for the Lerner Family Trust, which holds the shares of the Cleveland Browns, I have agreed to sell the Browns to Jimmy Haslam and his family.
“I was approached regarding Mr. Haslam’s interest several weeks ago. While as a fiduciary I have always felt it was my responsibility to listen to offers, I had not been approached with a proposal that felt as natural and complete as Mr. Haslam’s. He had done a lot of work on the Browns and the City of Cleveland and first and foremost gave me his personal assurance the team would remain in Cleveland.
“As I was at first overwhelmed, I asked for a few days to consider the proposal during which time I consulted with my mother and sister. Over this short period we agreed that the proposal was strong, the buyers made sense and the time was right for us to move on.
“Going forward, we anticipate that the League will meet and vote on the deal and the closing is expected to follow shortly thereafter. During this time the organization will operate as it has in the past with all senior executives in place.
“While a statement like this is certainly part of the process, it couldn’t possibly capture my feelings toward the Browns and the many people whom I feel very strong about. Those feelings therefore will need to be expressed in person. Notwithstanding, I feel a deep debt of gratitude to the loyal and passionate fan base, as well as the people I’ve met and worked with over the years. It has been a privilege to be involved with the Cleveland Browns and my only hope is that the Haslam family has the best of luck and that the Browns are restored to their rightful place among NFL Champions.”
Once the NFL’s finance committee reviews the sale, it will submit a report to the owners. Twenty-four of the league’s 32 owners must vote to approve Haslam’s purchase before it’s finalized.
NFL ownership could vote on Haslam’s purchase during its next scheduled meeting in October, or Commissioner Roger Goodell could call for a special meeting to be held as early as this month to push the deal through sooner.
“No special meeting has been scheduled,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello wrote in an e-mail to the Beacon Journal. “It’s possible but too early in the process to determine.”
Either way, no holdups are expected during the process. Haslam has been a minority owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers since 2008, so the league is already familiar with him. He must sell his stake in the Steelers for the transfer of the Browns to become formal. And plans have already been made for Haslam to do so, ESPN reported.
The 58-year-old Haslam, a native of Knoxville, Tenn., helped transform the company his father, Jimmy Haslam II, founded in 1958 into the largest operator of travel centers and travel plazas in North America. His younger brother is Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, and the family is a well-known benefactor of the University of Tennessee. The Browns have compiled a record of 47-97 since 2003, Randy Lerner’s first full season in charge of the organization. Lerner hired three presidents, three general managers and three head coaches during his tenure.
Now a new era is on the horizon.