Modell upbeat despite delay Vote on Browns move likely at Feb. meeting

Despite delay, Modell feels good about meetings

January 20, 1996|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,SUN STAFF

Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell declined yesterday to predict how his fellow NFL owners will vote in three weeks on his move to Baltimore, but said he left the meetings encouraged.

"I feel good about things," Modell said.

The league wrapped up three days of meetings on Thursday without voting on his relocation application but scheduled another meeting for Feb. 8-9, at which time a vote is expected.

Under league rules, which the Maryland Stadium Authority is challenging in court, three-quarters of the team owners must vote in favor of a franchise's request to move.

Modell made a presentation to his fellow owners Wednesday and participated in discussions Thursday, during which various ideas for satisfying both Baltimore and Cleveland fans were raised.

Jacksonville Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver, who has said he opposes the move, asked Modell if he would consider leaving the team behind in exchange for an expansion franchise in Baltimore.

Modell said he would consider such an "asset swap" only if the new team would be playing in Baltimore this year.

"I would consider anything that would get me to Baltimore. But I want to be there in 1996. I'm too old to wait two or three years for an expansion franchise," Modell said.

He said he doesn't think the league will be expanding before the end of the decade.

"I made it clear to the owners that the Browns are not for sale and won't be sold," Modell said. "It was a lot of good give and take."

Some owners favor putting an expansion franchise in Cleveland, or relocating an existing team there, if the city builds a new stadium. City officials have approved $175 million for renovating Cleveland Stadium, but say they will consider building a new facility.

Modell said he would work to help his old city get another team.

"I don't want to do a damn thing for the elected officials and media in Cleveland, but I do want to do something for the fans in Cleveland," Modell said. "Maybe I could regain some of my pride and reputation that has been beaten there."

Ohio officials accuse Modell of not giving them an adequate opportunity to meet his needs in Cleveland, where fan support is strong but the stadium is obsolete. Modell says the city failed to achieve a political consensus for stadium renovation in time to get the work done by the end of his lease.

He has offered to pay off the rent on his remaining seasons at the stadium, but the city is suing, trying to force him to play out the lease in Cleveland.

The lawsuit is expected to be among the issues considered by the NFL as it meets with city officials. The league and city pledged this week to work toward finding a "mutually satisfactory" solution to their dilemma before Feb. 8, and the team hopes a cessation of legal challenges will be part of any settlement.

Modell said if another team moves to Cleveland it could save him and Baltimore fans money. He hopes the league would consider rTC an "offset" on any relocation fee it would charge him for moving if another team took the Cleveland market he helped develop. Also, another team could take over the Browns' training complex, reducing lease and debt payments he might otherwise owe.

A relocation fee and paying off the lease at the stadium and training center are among the items Maryland has said he could pay with the proceeds of one-time season ticket fees, called permanent seat licenses.

His agreement with the state allows him to raise up to $75 million in the licenses, but the money has to be used for specified relocation-related expenses and cannot be retained by the team. If the actual expenses come in less as a result of any legal settlements, Modell said he may lower the prices of the licenses.

"I have no intention of making a nickel in profits on the PSLs," Modell said.

A bill submitted in the Maryland General Assembly by Del. Michael Busch would divert any unused license proceeds to stadium construction, to keep it out of the team's coffers.

Modell said "no one has to legislate that. I intend not to pocket one nickel."

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