At the beginning of June, rumors surfaced that Cleveland Browns owner Randy Lerner might be putting the team up for sale. Shortly after the rumor surfaced, team spokesman Neal Gulkis informed the Plain Dealer, "The Cleveland Browns are not for sale."
Less than two months later, though, it is no longer a rumor: the Cleveland Browns are up for sale, at least in some capacity. This was confirmed in a statement released by Lerner Friday morning:
"In connection with current rumors and press inquiries, I can report that I've been approached by Mr. Jimmy Haslam, who is interested in making an investment in the Cleveland Browns. We are currently in negotiations and both sides have agreed to keep that dialogue and its details private. Given that any transaction would require League approval, care has been taken so that this process will not be disruptive to the organization, in particular the football team, as it prepares for the upcoming season. We will share further details or make an announcement if it becomes necessary."
Lerner's statement identifies Jimmy Haslam, a Tennessee native and the president and CEO of Pilot Travel Centers. In late-2008, Haslem became a minority owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, an investment which he cannot be a part of if he gets involved with the Browns. Lerner was vague in stating that Haslem was "interested in making an investment in the Cleveland Browns." Does that mean as a minority or a majority owner? Per Tony Grossi and ESPN Cleveland, the network which first broke the rumor this morning, it seems as though Haslam is seeking a majority stake:
According to a source, Haslam is looking for a majority stake in the Browns – perhaps 100 percent – and there is a good possibility the Lerner family would have no partnership if a sale is completed.
Browns fans have been discussing this topic all morning long -- on the same day that the team holds its first full-squad training camp session, no less. We'll have more details as they come along.
UPDATE (12:40 PM): One of the concerns right now is that as fans, you hope that team president Mike Holmgren is on board with a potential sale and was kept in the loop by Lerner. When the original rumors surfaced in June, Holmgren was asked about it and said the following:
"No, the Browns are not for sale," Holmgren said. "I talk to Randy (Lerner) all the time, and I assume he’d tell me. We have a very open, honest relationship. No, there’s no truth to that."
UPDATE (12:45 PM): Cleveland mayor Frank Jackson released a statement on the potential sale, which addresses fears of someone coming in and trying to move the team.
The Cleveland Browns have some of the most loyal and passionate fans which have helped make it one of the most valuable sports franchises in the world. The city took precautionary measures to ensure that fans would be able to cheer on the Browns at Cleveland Browns Stadium for years to come.
The 30-year lease to the Cleveland Browns commenced in 1999 and continues to 2029. This lease, like the prior Municipal Stadium lease for which the City of Cleveland successfully obtained an injunction in 1995, requires the Browns to play all their regular season and playoff home games in the Cleveland Browns Stadium. If this requirement is not honored the city has legal options that could be pursued if necessary.
UPDATE (12:50 PM): In the last hour, Howard Eskin, the radio host who started the sale speculation back in June, reports that Joe Banner is interested in being a part of the group that buys the Browns. Banner was the Eagles' team president for over 10 years, up until June 2012, when he shifted to the role of "strategic adviser to the owner." PFT speculates on whether it would make sense for both Banner and Holmgren to be involved with the same team (let's not jump to conclusions).
UPDATE (1:08 PM): I wouldn't put much weight into who Haslam might be a fan of. Per an interview on the Steelers' website, he grew up as a Cowboys fan and then became a Colts fan. Upon his investment in the Steelers, he said he was "1,000 percent a Steelers fan." Any majority/minority owner is going to say that. Sure, maybe the guy won't be down in the tailgate lot with fans, but if he buys the Browns, that will become his No. 1 team.
UPDATE (1:32 PM): Per Tony Grossi, the media is expected to hear from Mike Holmgren before the team's 2:00 PM practice today. The media will be in a pickle today: how do you cover Day 1 of training camp and focus on the Lerner sale at the same time? Hopefully that's where a guy like Steve Doerschuk or Will Burge come in handy with some observations.
UPDATE (2:18 PM): (From Brian Dulik on Twitter), on Holmgren addressing the media before practice:
#Browns president Mike Holmgren: "The Cleveland Browns aren't going anywhere. ... (Randy Lerner) is giving up a controlling interest."
UPDATE (3:00 PM): Indications are that Lerner would sell the team under the condition that the team can't be moved. Browns fans shouldn't worry -- the Modell situation was devastating, but history isn't going to repeat.
UPDATE (4:22 PM): This will probably be the final update in this thread -- the press conference transcript from Mike Holmgren's talk with the media is now available on the team website. 92.3 The Fan speculated that Holmgren's demeanor made it sound like he will be out as team president, but there have been no sources/official reports claiming that at this time. I can't imagine Holmgren jettisoning now.