This was as clean a pic as I could find. (via www.waitingfornextyear.com)
I tried my best to keep my feelings put aside for this. You have no idea how hard this was.
Sports will always be business. Art Modell taught me this lesson. Dollars and cents and bottom lines matter more than a city full of passionate fans.
How did this situation get to this point? It is a long story, that goes way back.
Up until 1973, Cleveland Stadium was owned by the city of Cleveland. The problem was that the stadium was expensive to operate and maintain and the city of Cleveland needed help. Art Modell offered the city of Cleveland a deal. Modell's new company, Stadium Corporation, would lease Cleveland Stadium from the city, for $1 dollar per year. Modell would then sublease the stadium to the two teams that played there, his own Cleveland Browns, and the Cleveland Indians.
The city of Cleveland accepted the deal. Art Modell now not only owned the Browns, but he also owned the home of the Cleveland Indians, for nothing more than a dollar a year and operating costs. This deal gave Modell a lot of power in the city of Cleveland.
Modell did some good things with the stadium. He added a huge electronic scoreboard in the end zone above the Dawg Pound. He also built luxury boxes around the stadium. He added advertisements (look at the above link) all over the stadium. All of these were bringing in money for Modell.
This deal looked great for everyone, except the Cleveland Indians.
Stadium Corp. was the Indians landlord. If the Indians needed something in their locker room, they had to ask Modell. If they needed a new batting cage at the ball park, it was up to Modell. Modell didn't care if the Indians needed something, they weren't his team. Additions to the Indians clubhouse were minimal. It was like a scene from the movie Major League, just without a naked Cerrano. The Indians had one of the worst clubhouses in all the MLB. The Indians believed that this was a major reason that they were unable to attract any big time free agents.
For example, starting in 1974 Stadium Corp booked a mid-summer outdoor rock concert, called the World Series of Rock, to be played on the Indians home field. Modell collects a ton of money for tickets and concessions from the rock concert, and the Indians receive nothing more than a field destroyed by a rock show that was held on the infield. Yes, Stadium Corp. did some repairs, but if you have ever been to a rock concert, you have some idea on how poor of condition the field was in. (Maybe they should have hired these guys. NSFW)
But this wasn't the biggest issue with Indian owners. Art Modell was collecting the money from the Indians luxury boxes. People were paying Modell to watch the Indians! Modell tried to explain that the luxury boxes weren't profitable because Modell financed their construction with loans that carried prevailing high interest rates, even though he never proved that this was true. In other words, Modell didn't want to share the money raised by the luxury boxes because he made a poor business decision! How that makes any sense, only Modell knows.
Modell was sitting on a golden goose. He was paying rent as the owner of the Browns to himself. He was collecting rent on the Indians with the bonus of the luxury boxes on top. He was getting money from the NFL's TV deals (in 1990 the NFL signed a 900 million dollar a year deal with ABC, CBS, ESPN, NBC, and TNT). All Modell was paying was to upkeep the stadium (a dump) and the costs and salaries of the Browns (Just to give you and idea, Joe Montana signed a 3 year 10 million dollar deal in 1993. In other words, Modell should have had money everywhere.)
The Indians had grown tired of Modell's penny pinching ways. Dick Jacobs, the Indians owner since '86, and Gordon Gund, the Cavs owner, went to the city of Cleveland and asked for new stadiums. In May of 1990 the Cuyahoga County voters approved of a 15 year "sin tax" on cigarettes and alcohol (That's right, if you buy a pack of smokes in the 'Hoga before 2005, you helped pay for those two stadiums). Cleveland's sports teams all played in outdated dumps, and the city wanted to fix this.
Enter Gateway Sports and Entertainment Group (GSEG).
The GSEG appointed a nine member board, with Thomas V. Chema named as executive director. This groups job was to allocate money in order to build new sporting venues in the downtown Cleveland area.
It wasn't just for the Cavs and Indians. The GSEG approached Art Modell about building a new Cleveland Browns stadium. In fact, the land on which Progressive Field sits was originally supposed to be for the new Browns Stadium. Here the city was offering to build him a stadium in which he would have to pay NOTHING to get.
Modell wouldn't have it. Modell wanted to own the stadium. He wanted the people of Cleveland to pay for a stadium that he would own. I can't fathom a reason why he expected Cleveland to accept those terms. GSEG told Modell that his terms were not going to make it.
Modell believed that he would be fine without the Indians. This couldn't have been further from the truth. Modell had a stadium that just had 81 nights open up. Stadium Corps luxury box revenues went into the crapper, and with a stadium empty night in and night out during the summer, Modell's money evaporated before his eyes.
Modell needed help and he needed it quickly. He now had an empty and old stadium that was in need of repairs and refurbishing that he could not afford. He reached out to the city of Cleveland and asked for help. In '73 the city of Cleveland needed help, now it was flipped. The city of Cleveland approved a 10 year extension of the sin tax. It had to be voted on, but no one in their right mind thought that the people of Cleveland wouldn't pass the motion. Modell was promised $175 million dollars, which was almost equal to the amount of money that GSEG put aside for Gund Arena and Jacobs Field combined (Jacobs cost $128 million, and Gund cost $75 million).
All the sudden Modell would not discuss the future of his team. He wouldn't discuss the stadium. Nothing. He went into lock down mode. The vote for Modell to get his money was in the near future, yet you couldn't get a peep out of Modell. Modell said that the moratorium on the talks until after the season were because he wanted to focus on football, but that he would continue talks after the season.
There was another reason. Modell was in secret negotiations with the state of Maryland to move the Browns to Baltimore for the '96 season. Baltimore had been without an NFL team since '84 when the Colts went to Indy in the dark of the night. One of the most outspoken owners against the Colts moving to Indy was, you guessed it, Art Modell. Modell also voted against Al Davis being allowed to move Raiders from Oakland to Los Angeles. But when it came to saving his own ass, loyalty didn't apply to Modell.
The week before the City of Cleveland was to vote the referendum giving Modell $175 Million, Modell announced that he had struck a deal to move the Browns. Starting with the '96 season, Modell would be the owner of the Baltimore Browns. The deal Modell took was great for him. He was promised a $200 million dollar stadium to be built by the state, state paid improvements to Baltimore's Memorial Stadium, which would be the Ravens home field for the next two seasons, and to top it all off, Art Modell was given $75 Million dollars for "moving expenses". Everyone knew that the moving expenses was pretty much a nice little thank you to Art. The number thrown around is that Art cleared $50 million, but nothing has been proven.
Many people believed that the timing of Art's announcement was to try and sway the people of Cleveland to vote down the proposed tax addition. He could then claim that the Cleveland wasn't willing to help him in getting a new stadium which would help him in convincing the other NFL owners to allow him to move. Never mind that Modell himself was the one who walked from GSEG. The people of Cleveland went out the following week and overwhelming passed the sin tax extension. The people of Cleveland answered Modell's financial S.O.S. Modell didn't care, he had a sweetheart of a deal from Baltimore.
Fans were outraged. They sued everyone they could. They protested. It didn't matter. The city of Cleveland did have one major win. We kept the history of the Cleveland Browns. We kept the colors. We kept what made the Browns, THE Browns. Honestly back then, it seemed like a small win for a city that was losing its football team. It laid the groundwork of similar deals that has kept the "Sonics" name, logo and history in Seattle. The Twins were forced to agree to a similar deal when they agreed to move into Target Field this season. City of Cleveland was promised a franchise in the near future, be it a expansion or another existing franchise.
If your asking why the NFL didn't step in, it's because the only people who benefited from this move more than Art Modell was the NFL. The NFL, and it's owners had the city of Cleveland in their back pocket. Any city that wanted a new stadium, just had to drop the hint of relocating to Cleveland. Cleveland was used in the shakedown of numerous cities. You see a new stadium that was built in the past 10-15 years, you can thank Cleveland for that. The NFL had all of these great new stadiums at a cost of zero to them or their owners. While the owners may have said that they were against the Browns moving, behind it all, owners like Robert Kraft were taking notes on how to get shiny new stadiums for free. The rich were getting richer and the gaping hole in Cleveland was a major influence.
All that was left was the vote of the owners. Many owners spoke out against the move. Some people thought that the move would be voted down due to the outrage of fans and media. Modell needed 23 out of the 30 owners to give him a yes. Three owners abstained from the vote, and two owners voted against the move. Ralph Wilson, who was considered one of Art Modell's closest friends in football, voted against him because Modell never gave the Browns a chance to match the offer he got from Baltimore. I am a Steeler hater, but I have the utmost respect for the Rooney family. They voted against the move of the Browns and handed out black armbands to their fans at the last Browns game in Pittsburgh. The fans gave a standing ovation to the Browns players when they were introduced. That is why the Browns-Steelers is the greatest NFL rivalry in the NFL. When the dust cleared, Modell had enough votes to move the Browns.
With the league approval, nothing else stood in Modell's way. He offered excuses on why the move was made but they were all flimsy (his family wouldn't be able to pay the estate tax when he died, etc.) and proved to be false. Money mattered, and Modell was getting it in spades from Baltimore. That's all that mattered. He was broke because he couldn't manage his money. The NFL forced (FORCED!) Modell to sell part of his team because he was in poor financial condition. He was so poor at managing his money, that the NFL was taking away his toy. On March 27th, 2000, Art Modell sold 49% of the Ravens to Steve Bisciotti. Bisciotti had the option to buy the other 51% for $325 million in 2004, which he did. On April 9th, 2004, Art Modell was no longer a part of the NFL. He didn't even last 10 years in Baltimore.
I could have gone into more, what was Al Lerner's role in this whole thing? Was he promised a franchise if he played along, why fly Modell to Baltimore, etc. But this is so much longer than I thought originally. If I left anything out, and I am sure I did, please feel free to add to this in the comments, and correct me if I got anything incorrect (I did so much of this from memory and facts about the move are far, few and in between.)
I wrote this from a neutral point of view as much as I could. But this part is from me the Browns fan. Modell screwed me. He robbed me of my favorite thing as a kid, watching the Cleveland Browns with my father. Sundays weren't the same from '96-'98. We tried, but it just hurt. Modell was a bad business man and the people who paid most were people like my father and I. Modell could have just sold the Browns to someone who would have kept the team in Cleveland, but Art was always too proud for that. The only way he would no longer be an owner of an NFL team was either death or the NFL would have to step in. When it is all said and done, I hope that Art enjoys his money, because the move should cost Modell a shot at Canton. Art Modell isn't a Hall of Famer, and he sure as hell isn't a Cleveland Brown.