First game of the new era
New Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam appears to actually be the kind of real-life “cowboy” that so many recent politicians want voters to think they are.
He’s a straight-shooting, business savvy, Rock-Hudson-in-Giant type of guy. Or at least that’s the persona when he steps up to the mic.
After a decade of Randy “I’d-rather-play-with-my-English-soccer-team” Lerner, Haslam is a breath of very American fresh air.
Whether or not one subscribes to the “Great Man” theory of history (and no, Mr. Haslam isn’t Abraham Lincoln), there’s something to be said for the kind of expansive, confident, intense and high-energy leadership emanating from this U.S. business tycoon.
Haslam was born into a winning situation and has kept on winning for his entire 58 years on the planet. Heck yeah, let him do his thing!
Fighting for a spot.
Cleveland station WKYC’s Sara Shookman offers some history:
1. Jimmy Haslam III is the son of a man (Jimmy Haslam Jr., for those of you keeping score) who turned a corner gas station into a string of truck stops.
2. JH3 turned that string into the 11th largest privately held business in the United States.
3. You know how John Elway and Peyton Manning were raised to be quarterbacks from toddlerhood? Haslam was raised to be a CEO—a job he entered officially in 2001.
4. Did I mention that Jimmy’s younger brother is the sitting governor of Tennessee?
5. And his former fraternity brother is a Senator?
This is an old-fashioned American power family of Citizen Kane proportions. They leverage business, personal connections and politics into what can only be described as a small empire. So, yeah, funding isn’t an issue.
There’s no reason why this can’t be a winning franchise. Everything is here…Every other piece is in place. Great fan base; we have the money. We just have to execute.
(quoted by Jeff Schudel in The Morning Journal)
Sports economist Andrew Zimbalist told espn.com’s Kristi Dosh that the Browns’ revenue projects to about $250 million per year, which is in line with a purchase price of $1 billion.
That number will rise dramatically in 2014, when new television contracts (increased by an estimated 60 percent) go into effect.
The one monetary cloud on the NFL’s horizon is the multiple concussion lawsuits lurking in the background.
Both the league and helmet maker Riddell have had insurance companies void or seek to void contracts to both defend against these suits and pay potential damages. (via espn.com) Guess they think they might have to actually pay.
As proven during last year's lockout, the NFL is the 800-pound gorilla of the sports biz.
The Haslams are a football-loving group, but they know that buying a franchise on the verge of a turnaround in a hugely profitable industry is just good business.
Despite their hardcore profit-making mission, this is an extremely philanthropic family. Haslam Junior, a former University of Tennessee tackle, donated $32 million to his alma mater in 2006.
Jimmy Haslam III and his wife gave $10 million more recently. The university’s practice facility is known as Haslam Field.
They put their money where their passion is. And their passion is the university—and football.
Haslam will allow his family to fly to a vacation site while he sometimes takes a car to visit Pilot and Flying J locations on the way home. Yes, he pays managers to ensure the Snickers bars are properly stacked and the citizens band radios are prominently displayed, but the leader who sets the standards wants to see them met with his own eyes.
The Browns new owner is a Southern gentleman. That doesn’t mean he always does the most honorable thing or that he would shrink from stepping on an opponent’s throat. It means he will be extremely polite, gracious and (whenever possible) humorous while doing whatever he thinks needs to be done.
In his introductory press conference, Haslam used forthright firmness and humor in deflecting questions about who will really be running this franchise:
There is league protocol and the league has to have an official meeting, that will be in October and until then Randy will own the team. So it’s his team and it would be very presumptuous and very poor form for us to make any personnel decisions or comments.
Somebody asked me that when we were having lunch, about being hands on because we run our main business hands on. I looked over at Mike and I said, "Mike probably doesn’t want us to be hands on," but I think our style is going to be involved.
His father was a football star at Tennessee, Jimmy the Third played WR and DB in high school. He’s been a football fan, student and supporter his entire life.
Haslam just spent several years doing an NFL-owners internship with the Pittsburgh Steelers. This guy knows both football and business.
He has made it very clear that he is going to learn everything that he possibly can about running an NFL team. And then he’s going to run it.
Multiple sources (including state-run TV nfl.com) have rumored since before the ink was dry that Haslam is going to bring in former Philadelphia Eagles president Joe Banner to fill that position in Cleveland.
Banner is said to have been Haslam’s advisor during the purchase negotiations.
The new owner has thus far refused to confirm or deny:
We don't pretend to be experts in evaluating talent and coaching talent. We think we have a lot to learn. The best thing we can do is ensure that we have the best people in place. But if you check our business background, we're regarded as hands-on people.
Whether Banner is truly a better or worse choice as President is probably a moot point. Both are knowledgeable, both have had success. Neither wants to share power. Too bad. Jimmy’s in town.
Haslam swears that he will not move the Browns out of Cleveland. He should be believed—at least for now.
For one thing, the team has a contract with the city requiring them to play home games in Cleveland Stadium.
For another, Haslam has to feel right at home with Browns fans. Remember, the only difference between Rust Belt workers and Tennessee mountaineers is an accent. They both want their football tough, courageous and successful.
Then there is the potential for a huge naming-rights contract. Brace yourself, traditionalists, it’s coming.
When asked if Cleveland Stadium might become Pilot/Flying J stadium, Haslam didn’t blink in telling local ABC’s Channel 5 television:
We have several people interested in the naming rights and none of those companies at the current time are located in Tennessee.
Part of the Haslam family’s belief system is stability:
[The Browns have] averaged a new coach once every 2.8 years [since the franchise returned to Cleveland in 1999]…And that's just not a good recipe. (interview with Peter King, Sports Illustrated)
Brandon Weeden is the 17th starting quarterback since 1999. Haslam is going to shake things up, but it may not be on the field. At least not right away.
He also told King:
One thing I learned from watching the Steelers is the importance of consistency in coaching, and how much it sets you back when you're always making a change. When you change coaches, it can be a three- or four-year deal to get back.
Jimmy Haslam has a way of doing things:
Culture is a little different than uniforms and naming rights. Culture is about how you come to work every day and conduct yourselves. (Quoted by Will Brinson of Cbssports.com)
Cleveland’s new owner may not be the cavalry coming over the hill, but if any team needs a John Wayne—it’s the Browns.