Ravens tackle business-side inefficiencies

In streamlining push, David Modell clarifies duties of four officials

July 29, 1999|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

ROSEMONT, Ill. -- In a sweeping reorganization of the Ravens' front office, David Modell is attempting to operate the cash-strapped team in a more efficient, businesslike manner by appointing four group operating heads.

Modell, who was charged by his father, owner Art Modell, earlier this year with the task of running the team on a day-to-day basis, has redefined the roles of four top executives.

The four group operating heads who report to Modell are Ozzie Newsome, in charge of the football operation; Kevin Byrne, in charge of public relations and marketing; Luis Perez, in charge of finance and administration; and Chuck Cusick, in charge of facilities and grounds.

Each department head will work with a specific budget. In the past, Modell described the team's budget as "a little bit more amorphous than certainly it is now."

The Ravens are watching their spending closely because they're $185 million in debt and recently received a $65 million bridge loan from the league to prevent some of the lenders from foreclosing on the team.

Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and the last two heads of the NFL finance committee, Bob Kraft of the New England Patriots and Tom Benson of the New Orleans Saints, met Tuesday night with both Modells before the one-day owners' meeting yesterday to review the loan.

Tagliabue, who said it was the first time the league has granted such a loan since he became commissioner a decade ago, called it a "very positive meeting," and said the Modells updated them on their search for a minority investor so they can repay the league loan.

Although the Modells said they don't have a timetable to find a minority investor, Tagliabue said it was a "year, 12-month type of arrangement."

When Tagliabue was asked what would happen if there were some snags and the Modells didn't find a minority investor in a year, he said: "We don't anticipate any snags."

Tagliabue seemed pleased with the team's current fiscal approach. "They're monitoring their own spending because of their desire to run a tight ship," he said.

As part of the reorganization, Pat Moriarty, the chief negotiator, will now report to Newsome in the football operation instead of being on the finance side.

"I think Pat previously served several masters. Now, it's very clear who he works for, who's he responsible to and what he's responsible for. He's very focused," Modell said.

In the past, it was often unclear who was in charge of what in the organization, and Byrne said: "We're moving away from a family-style-operated company to more of a business."

Byrne said that under this structure, the team would not have given Andre Rison a $5 million signing bonus in 1995. "It wouldn't be just a coach going and saying, `This is the guy who's going to put me in the Super Bowl,' " Byrne said.

Modell said he didn't want to cite any single signing.

"It isn't just one thing or another that contributed to our wanting to run our business like a business. It's just a good idea," he said.

Art Modell lauded the work his son has done in his new role. "He's brought a new structure, a new discipline [to the team]. I think he's one of the best operating heads in the league right now," Modell said.

The Ravens have shown financial discipline in their recent signings. They signed a string of veterans for the $400,000 minimum and no signing bonuses, including Webster Slaughter, Qadry Ismail and Steve Broussard.

They also signed guard Jeff Blackshear to a six-year, $15.3 million deal that only included a $2.5 million signing bonus, a modest bonus for a six-year deal.

They even signed their top draft pick, Chris McAlister, to a four-year, $6.3 million contract that was virtually the same as Duane Starks' deal last year. McAlister got a higher signing bonus -- $3.75 million to $3.1 million -- but Starks received slightly more total dollars -- $6.4 million to $6.3 million -- so it was a virtual wash.

"Pat's doing a good job," David Modell said.

When the younger Modell was asked if he was surprised at the shaky financial condition of the team when he took over, he ducked the question by saying, "Professional sports is a challenging economic environment."

He said he and his father made a joint decision to pick Deutsche Banc Alex. Brown over John Moag -- the former head of the Maryland Stadium Authority, who negotiated the deal to bring the Browns from Cleveland -- and Legg Mason as the investment banker to find a minority investor.

David Modell said: "This was not an easy decision. This isn't politics. It's business."

Art Modell said: "John Moag still remains our friend. So does Chip Mason. Sometimes you have to make a decision and go with it. The bank involvement gives you some additional sources of strength that Legg Mason, which is not in the banking business, doesn't have."

Moag declined to comment from his office in Baltimore.

One owner, who didn't want to be identified, said Art Modell told him the Ravens will make $44 million the next two years. But since the team is believed to have to pay about $20 million a year on its debt, that doesn't leave much margin for error.

David Modell declined to comment on the team's finances, saying it's a private company.

He still hopes to inherit the team from his father. "That'd be nice," he said.

When he was asked if these moves might have been made too late and the huge debt may make it difficult for him to eventually become the owner, he said, "It wasn't done too late. I can tell you right now that we're in a perfectly sound position."

NOTES: Los Angeles officials made another presentation to the owners in their bid to gain an expansion team, but the owners want more public money in the deal. If they don't get it by the Sept. 15 deadline, the NFL is ready to award Houston the 32nd team.

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