Cleveland Brown owner Art Modell has told sources he intends to announce today that his football team has reached an agreement to move to Baltimore next season, a deal that still must be approved by at least 23 of his fellow NFL owners.
Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening and Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke will also attend the news conference, scheduled to be held at a parking lot outside Camden Yards--where a new, $200-million stadium would be built for the team.
Modell did not attend the Browns' game Sunday against the Houston Oilers at Cleveland Stadium, the first home game he's missed since he bought the club in 1961. Team spokesman Kevin Byrne confirmed that Modell will be in Baltimore and that "most people assume he will go there to announce he'll move the team there. I really think it's coming, yes I do."
The NFL owners will convene Tuesday in Dallas for their regularly scheduled annual fall meeting and Baltimore/Cleveland will be at the top of the agenda. A three-quarter majority of owners must approve the move.
A Maryland official familiar with the negotiations said he believes Modell will be able to move eventually. "Art Modell is a popular and powerful owner," he said. "I think he's done his homework. The league tries to hold you hostage for a while until they can get what they want. There will be a lot of back and forth, but I can't imagine him having any difficulty getting them to go along with the deal."
But Modell's fellow owners may have other ideas. In a recent interview, Pittsburgh Steeler owner Dan Rooney told the Washington Post, "I would take a pretty dim view of it [a Cleveland move], but I would also listen to what he had to say. . . . I know he has trouble because of what happened with Jacobs Field [the Cleveland Indians' new baseball stadium]. The city put all its effort there, and he [Modell] has an older place with a lot of problems. But moving out of Cleveland would be very disturbing to me."
Another NFL team owner interviewed this weekend said he was stunned that Modell, a man he described as "Mr. Cleveland," would consider leaving the city and possibly defying his fellow NFL owners, some of whom have already said they will vote against the move this week.
Sources confirmed that Modell, who was not available to comment, had already informed the team's players and coaches about the decision as well as most members of the front office. They were told they would have jobs in Baltimore and the team would provide moving expenses.
In Baltimore, the Browns would play for one season at Memorial Stadium, home for the Baltimore Colts until 1984, when the team departed for Indianapolis. The Browns would move the following season to a $200-million, 70,000-seat stadium with 108 luxury boxes and 7,500 club seats. Modell would not have to pay rent at the new stadium and would also get a portion of the revenue from permanent seat licenses (fees charged to fans for the right to buy season tickets) and all parking and concession revenue. There are estimates the deal will immediately provide a $30-million profit even before he gets a dime of the NFL's shared network and cable TV revenue, now about $40 million a year per team.
The $200 million earmarked for the new football stadium in Baltimore is funded primarily by a special state lottery. The General Assembly approved the funding strategy during the first term of former Gov. William Donald Schaefer, a past mayor of Baltimore who led the effort to replace the departed Colts.
The NFL has specific guidelines for teams to request a move. Among other stipulations, an owner must be able to demonstrate lack of community and fan support in the cities they are leaving. For a Cleveland team that averaged close to 70,000 fans a game in 1994 and more than 70,000 for its first five '95 home games, that will be difficult for Modell to prove.
NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue also has said he believes the league's guidelines on team movement now would pass muster with the courts. Last year, the league allowed the Rams to move to St. Louis and the Raiders to move back to their original home in Oakland.
Sunday afternoon, a delegation of Cleveland officials arrived in Maryland. Nancy Lessic, press secretary for Cleveland Mayor Michael R. White, said the Cleveland officials had no intention of attending Modell's announcement but would instead hold a news conference afterward. White and the delegation would then fly to Dallas to plead their case at the NFL owners meeting.
On Tuesday, voters of Cuyahoga County, which encompasses Cleveland, will vote on a referendum to provide a portion of the funds for a $170 million stadium renovation at Cleveland Stadium, the Browns' current home. The referendum calls for the continuation of a "sin tax" on liquor and cigarette sales through the year 2015 that would provide about $50 million.
But Modell has said he believes that referendum does not provide enough revenue to complete the renovation.