Updated: 8/2/2012 at 7:32 p.m.
BEREA (92.3 The Fan) - Randy Lerner completed the sale of the Cleveland Browns to Jimmy Haslam III for over $1 billion.
The deal was finalized Thursday morning and current team president Mike Holmgren confirmed the sale following the team’s afternoon walk though session.
“An agreement has been reached,” Holmgren said. “Now the process moves forward with league protocols and Mr. Haslam is coming in [Friday].”
Haslam will watch practice and then be introduced at a press conference scheduled for 1 p.m. Friday at the team’s headquarters in Berea, OH.
“This is a very exciting time for my family and me,” Haslam said in a statement released by 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.”
The NFL Network reports that former Eagles president Joe Banner will be a part of Haslam’s ownership team.
Should Banner be involved, the future of current team president Mike Holmgren would be in doubt but Holmgren chose not to speculate about his future with the team.
“I can’t talk about it, really,” Holmgren said. “The ‘what if’s and the hypothetical’s, I really have to stay away from right now.
“Our focus is on the team and I look very much forward to talking to Mr. Haslam.”
Lerner will retain approximately a 30 percent interest in the team while paying off debts related to former executives and coaches. Haslam will acquire the remaining 30 percent of the team 4 years after the closing date according to the Associated Press.
“I feel a deep debt of gratitude to the loyal and passionate fan base, as well as the people I’ve met and worked with over the years,” Lerner said in a statement released by the team. “It has been a privilege to be involved with the Cleveland Browns and my only hope is that the Haslam family has the best of luck and that the Browns are restored to their rightful place among NFL Champions.”
Lerner confirmed through a statement on July 27 that he was in negotiations with Haslam to sell an interest in the franchise. He consulted with his mother and sister before moving forward with the sale.
“Over this short period we agreed that the proposal was strong, the buyers made sense and the time was right for us to move on,” Lerner said in the statement.
Haslam is the president and CEO of Pilot Flying J. The company was founded by his father, Jimmy Haslam Jr., and is based in Knoxville, Tenn. Both played football at Tennessee and the family has contributed millions to the university.
Haslam’s younger brother, Bill, is governor of Tennessee.
The sale is subject to NFL approval which is expected.
The transaction will be reviewed by the league office and finance committee, which will write up a report and distribute to clubs before it is voted on by owners. 24 owners must vote ‘yes’ to approve the sale.
Owners could approve the sale at their meetings in October or commissioner Roger Goodell could call for a vote to push it through earlier.
Haslam has been a minority investor in the Pittsburgh Steelers since 2008 but has divested his shares in the team so he could complete his acquisition of the Browns.
Lerner inherited the team in October of 2002 from his late father, Al Lerner who was awarded the expansion Browns in 1998 for $530 million.
Al Lerner also helped facilitate the agreement with the state of Maryland and city of Baltimore to move the Browns in 1995 in an effort to recoup debts owed by Art Modell.
The original Browns played their final game at Cleveland Municipal Stadium on Dec. 17, 1995 – a 26-10 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals before being renamed the Baltimore Ravens in 1996.
Since returning to the NFL in 1999, the Browns 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 returning.
Once approved, Haslam would become the sixth majority owner of the Browns: team founder Mickey McBride (1945-1953), David Jones (1953-1961), Art Modell (1961-1995), Al Lerner (1998-2002), and Randy Lerner (2002-present).
An NFL trust also oversaw the inactive franchise from 1996-1998.
Cleveland last won the NFL championship in 1964, beating Johnny Unitas and the then-Baltimore Colts 27-0.
The Browns are 1 of 4 NFL franchises who have never been to the Super Bowl.
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