Modell, Moag signed lease 10 days ago Browns deal finalized on Lerner's plane at BWI on Oct. 27

Glendening on plane, too

Oral OK agreed upon a week before signing

November 06, 1995|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

CLEVELAND -- Since 8:45 a.m. on Oct. 27, the Cleveland Browns have been committed to play in Baltimore.

That's when Browns owner Art Modell and John Moag, head of the Maryland Stadium Authority, signed a lease on Baltimore's new football stadium.

A source close to the deal yesterday revealed how the agreement came about.

The deal was signed on Browns minority investor Alfred Lerner's private plane at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. Modell, who owns 91 percent of the team; Lerner, who owns 9 percent; Modell's son David, Browns vice president; and Jim Bailey, Browns executive vice president, were on the plane, which arrived at BWI at 8 that morning.

Moag and Gov. Parris N. Glendening then joined the four Browns executives on the plane. After the men spent 45 minutes going over the only two copies of the lease, it was signed.

The two sides orally agreed to the deal about a week before that, Moag said.

Glendening left the plane about 9 a.m., and Moag stayed on for another hour before he left with the signed lease, which he has had locked in his desk drawer in his downtown office. Modell took the other copy back to Cleveland with him. The deal will be made public today.

Moag has not notified the NFL that he has a signed lease and has had no contact with league officials since late August, he said.

That was after a meeting Moag had July 28 with Lerner on his plane. Lerner convinced him that Modell was serious about moving.

"I didn't feel it was my place to talk to the league," Moag said. "That's a team matter."

A source said Moag also was concerned the league might try to find ways to block a deal if it found out Maryland was close to making one.

Commissioner Paul Tagliabue bypassed Baltimore in expansion and discouraged teams from moving here, apparently because Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke has opposed placing a team in Baltimore.

Most of the talks with the Browns were conducted on the phone between Moag and Lerner, although they had a meeting in New York with Modell on Sept. 18. Moag and Lerner also cleared some hurdles at a meeting at Camden Yards on Sept. 6, the night Cal Ripken broke Lou Gehrig's consecutive-games record.

The cost of permanent-seat licenses and ticket prices aren't specified in the lease, although the seat-license prices will be set to raise $80 million for a sellout. Anything over the $75 million called for in the lease -- the $5 million difference provides a cushion should the games not sell out -- would go to the stadium authority.

Although the negotiations went smoothly, the final sticking point was how much money could be raised by the sale of seat licenses.

Moag started below the $75 million figure because he wanted to keep the prices as low as possible for the fans, and the Browns started higher until the two sides compromised on the $75 million.

Moag said that after the Cincinnati Bengals became the latest team to reject Baltimore in June, he opened what he called fairly serious discussions with three teams.

Moag wouldn't identify them, but a source said they were the Browns, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Arizona Cardinals.

A source said Moag targeted the Browns as his top choice because of their tradition and heritage and Modell's record as a successful owner.

Moag said that even though Baltimore had been rejected so many times in the past, he thought he had a good chance to be successful because free agency is causing player costs to rise in the league and the Baltimore stadium funding was going to be taken away if a team didn't accept the deal.

"I reached a conclusion very early on that, in many respects, this was our best opportunity to get a team," he said. "The industry is in a state of flux, and so many teams are in trouble."

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