Browns sold to Tennessee truck-stop magnate

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Here’s one to make Cleveland fans shake their heads: A partial owner of the hated Pittsburgh Steelers is buying the Browns.

Randy Lerner has reached a deal to sell the club to Tennessee truck-stop magnate Jimmy Haslam III _ a minority stockholder in the rival Steelers.

Lerner will sell 70 percent of the Browns to Haslam now, with the other 30 percent reverting to him four years after the closing date, a person with knowledge of the sale told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because details have not officially been announced.

“This is a very exciting time for my family and me,” Haslam said through the team.

“To own such a storied franchise as the Cleveland Browns, with its rich tradition and history, is a dream come true. We are committed to keeping the team in Cleveland and seeing it get back to the elite of the NFL _ something all Browns fans want and deserve.”

Haslam scheduled a news conference at Browns headquarters for Friday afternoon.

While the papers have been signed, the NFL still must approve the sale. Getting the nod from 24 of the 32 teams is required, and no date has been set for a vote because the sale has not been presented to the league yet. The person with knowledge of the sale said approval is expected by the end of September.

ESPN reported the sale price was more than $1 billion. For comparison, the Miami Dolphins sold at a value of more than $1 billion in 2009.

The Browns were valued at $977 million last year by Forbes magazine, 20th in the NFL.

Asked if he was surprised by the deal, team President Mike Holmgren said: “On one hand, the surprising part was the time of the year. But in this business, I gave up being surprised a long time ago.”

Lerner, whose family has owned the franchise since it returned to the NFL in 1999, first announced he was in negotiations to sell the club last week. The late Al Lerner, Randy’s father, purchased the franchise from the NFL in 1998 for $530 million after the original Browns moved to Baltimore in 1996 and became the Ravens. The elder Lerner died in 2002.

Randy Lerner also is the owner of Aston Villa, a club in the English Premier League.

The expansion Browns entered the NFL in 1999 and have made the playoffs just once, a 2002 first-round loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. They’ve had only two winning records in 13 seasons and are 68-140 since they returned.

Even with a string of failures on the field, the value of the Browns _ like other NFL franchises _ keeps increasing, boosted by broadcast income. The league agreed in December to nine-year contracts with CBS, Fox and NBC that run through the 2022 season and will boost revenue from the $1.93 billion last season to $3.1 billion by 2022. The NFL reached an eight-year extension with ESPN last year through the 2021 season that increases the rights fee from $1.1 billion to $1.9 billion annually.

Haslam has been a minority investor in the Steelers since 2008, and is the president and CEO of Pilot Flying J, the largest operator of travel centers and travel plazas in North America. He is the older brother of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam.

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