Tagliabue report: Browns fell short of move criteria But potential Md. lawsuit helped force settlement

April 11, 1996|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,SUN STAFF

Although he supported the negotiated settlement that allowed the Browns to move to Baltimore, NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue said the team met only some of the league's guidelines for relocation and was not losing money in Cleveland.

In a four-page report to NFL teams, dated March 6 and distributed to teams, Tagliabue rejected the Browns' claims of financial distress but acknowledged Baltimore's football history and heritage -- as well as the potential costs of Maryland's lawsuit against the league.

"Like Cleveland, Baltimore is an important and substantial element of the League's history and tradition, even though the League's presence there was fundamentally changed by the Colts' departure a decade ago," Tagliabue wrote.

The Colts moved from Baltimore to Indianapolis in 1984. Cleveland, the NFL and the Browns agreed in February to allow the team -- since renamed the Ravens -- to move to Baltimore in exchange for Cleveland's building a new stadium with league financial assistance.

The league promised to put a team in Cleveland and assign it the name and history of the Browns. The Browns also paid the city about $10 million to cover unexpired rent and legal costs, and will pay the league a relocation fee.

As part of the relocation process, team owner Art Modell applied for league permission, saying he was losing money in Cleveland and that the city's stadium was outdated and his negotiations to obtain a new facility had been fruitless.

Guidelines adopted by Tagliabue's predecessor in the wake of the 1982 courtroom drubbing the NFL took when it tried to keep the Raiders from moving to Los Angeles established an eight-part standard for measuring community support and a team's financial straits.

In his report, obtained yesterday by The Sun, Tagliabue said: "The Browns meet some, but not all, of the League's relocation guidelines." He rendered no final verdict on whether the team met the standard for a move, but he recommended approval of the settlement. The owners went along by a vote of 25-2.

Of the three criteria he did discuss in his report, in one he disagreed with the team's contention. Tagliabue said that when the Browns' books were consolidated with those of Modell's stadium operating company, "The Browns have not incurred net operating losses, exclusive of depreciation and amortization, sufficient to threaten the continued viability of the team."

However, the report said the team had experienced cash-flow problems "that raise issues about the team's continued competitive viability under current circumstances in Cleveland."

Modell, reached yesterday, said that he had not read the report but that the team was losing money. He said the league refused his request for accounting for the stadium corporation's debt in fixing up the aging facility.

"The stadium corporation had to use its assets to reduce our debt," Modell said.

He declined to comment on the rest of the report, saying, "I'm looking ahead and I'm glad to be here."

In terms of Cleveland's negotiations with the team, Tagliabue declined to draw any conclusion about the bitter disagreement between the two sides about whether the other had negotiated in good faith.

"It is evident that the Cleveland community is now both willing and able to contribute substantial sums to the construction of a state-of-the-art stadium," he said, adding that there was no satisfactory site for a team to play in while a new stadium was being built.

Undisputed by the team or league was the level of fan support in Cleveland. The team averaged 70,000 fans in recent years.

"In terms of fan loyalty and support, Cleveland Browns fans have few, if any, peers in the NFL or in any professional sport," Tagliabue wrote.

He also spoke favorably of Baltimore, which, he noted, "has demonstrated that it remains committed to NFL football and that it is prepared to support an NFL franchise.

"Under these circumstances, we have taken account of many factors bearing on the Browns' proposed relocation, including the unique circumstances presented by the NFL's historic relationship with the fans and community of Baltimore," he wrote.

Also considered in his recommendation, he said, was the lawsuit the Maryland Stadium Authority had filed a month earlier against the league, alleging it illegally worked to preserve the turf of the Washington Redskins by keeping teams out of Baltimore.

Tagliabue said he took into account the "costs and burdens of antitrust litigation that would result from a membership decision rejecting the Browns' proposal."

Pub Date: 4/11/96

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