News has emerged today that Cleveland Browns owner Randy Lerner has been approached by Pittsburgh Steelers minority owner Jim Haslam to sell the franchise and it is believed this deal will go through very quickly.
Lerner, son of credit card mogul Al Lerner and owner of English Premiership soccer team Aston Villa, released the following statement on the potential deal:
“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. 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.”
The Browns are estimated by Forbes to be worth $977 million but this is a drop in the bucket for Haslam whose family is worth more than $3 billion. This is not the first time that Haslam has pursued an NFL team either as he made a bid to buy the Tennessee Titans from Bud Adams who refused to sell – Haslam’s family are from Tennessee and he has strong ties to UT having been a graduate and donating $10 million to the university recently.
One of the biggest consequences of a deal of this nature could be in the upper management of the club. There is mounting speculation that former Eagles general manager Joe Banner is deeply involved and would be in line to take over the Browns presidency should Haslam’s ownership bid be successful. Current Browns president Mike Holmgren declined to comment when asked about his position today except to say “that will be answered down the road”.
Finally, Haslam’s minority stake in the Pittsburgh Steelers isn’t likely to be an issue here given that it isn’t a massive amount of money. It is largely expected the Rooney family would buy him out.