NFL set to complete Modell to Bisciotti

Committee OKs sale of Ravens' share

March 27, 2000|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Art Modell takes the first formal step toward passing the Ravens' torch to their next owner, Anne Arundel County businessman Stephen Bisciotti, at the annual NFL owners' meetings today.

After the league's powerful finance committee unanimously recommended yesterday that the league approve the sale of 49 percent of the Ravens to Bisciotti, Modell will introduce Bisciotti to the full membership today. He is expected to have no trouble getting approved.

The deal gives Bisciotti, who will pay $275 million to become minority owner of the Ravens, the option to buy the rest of the team for $325 million in four to six years. The attorneys for both sides are expected to finalize the deal when the owners approve it.

"I'm very happy to have him as part of the Modell football family and look forward to him bringing his enthusiasm and his passion for football to the franchise," Modell said after the committee's approval.

Bisciotti was scheduled to fly to the meetings late last night with John Moag of Legg Mason, who helped negotiate the deal last year.

Modell said there will be no immediate change in the way the team operates, although Bisciotti will be informed of all major financial decisions and will attend the NFL draft.

Modell said he rejected higher offers because Bisciotti was willing to wait four years to take control of the team. That way, Modell will have four more chances to win the Super Bowl before he retires.

Before Modell moved the Browns to Baltimore for the 1996 season, they won the NFL title in 1964 (beating the Baltimore Colts), but never got to a Super Bowl.

Although $600 million is the sticker price Bisciotti is paying for the team, it would take an army of accountants to figure out the exact value of the purchase because of the four-year delay before he takes over.

Modell said that, over the next four years, he and Bisciotti will both get agreed-upon payments each year and then divvy up the profits, 51 to 49 percent. The infusion of Bisciotti cash gets the team out of debt. Modell was forced to sell because he ran up $185 million in debts.

Although Modell said it'll be a bittersweet experience when he steps down in four to six years, he said the league isn't the same one he bought into in 1961.

He noted that many of the men who built the league and became his close friends, including George Halas, Art Rooney and Pete Rozelle, have died. There are only a few owners left, including Wellington Mara of the New York Giants and Ralph Wilson of the Buffalo Bills, with whom he's still close.

"It's a different world now. I've had a great run. Forty years is a long time," Modell said. "I don't know half the [current] owners. I'm very happy I contributed to the success of the league."

Along with Rozelle, Modell negotiated billions of dollars of television contracts and gave up the Browns' independent TV network to enable the league to negotiate the first league-wide television contract in 1962, which became the bedrock of the NFL's success.

Modell is one of the last of the breed of family owners who have no other business but football.

"To me, 1 p.m. on Sunday is sacred," he said.

Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and several finance committee members said they were impressed with Bisciotti, 39, professionally and personally. Tagliabue has met him three or four times.

"He seems like an outstanding guy," Tagliabue said. "He's got a very impressive track record in business. He's got deep roots in Maryland and a great love for the game. He's made a very positive impression on everybody in the league who's met him."

Bob Tisch, co-owner of the Giants, said: "We think he'll be a very good owner, and we're pleased to have him in the league. He has the finances to buy 49 percent now, and he'll have the finances when and if he decides to exercise his option."

Malcolm Glazer, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers owner who once tried to get an expansion team in Baltimore, said: "The owners feel he's a good person, and he's financially capable of doing what he's setting out to do. He's a successful businessman. He's a good person to be associated with."

NOTES: Pat Moriarty, the Ravens' chief negotiator, said he's still talking to Tony Agnone, agent for Qadry Ismail, even though Ismail has rejected the Ravens' "final offer" of $8 million for four years because $5 million is backloaded into the final two years. Moriarty said he may have talks this week with some of the agents for the Ravens' unsigned free agents, but he doesn't have any contract sessions scheduled at the meetings this week.

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