Art Modell

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Arthur B. Modell (born June 23, 1925, Brooklyn, NY) was a National Football League team owner.

As Browns owner

During the 1940s and 1950s, he worked in advertising, public relations and television production in New York City. He purchased the Cleveland Browns in 1961 for $4 million, investing only $250,000 of his own money (he borrowed $2.7 million and found partners for the rest).

Unlike the Browns' previous owners Modell immediately took an active role in the management of the team, and fired legendary coach Paul Brown after the 1962 season. He did so partly because Brown mostly ignored him and partly because the Browns' players, especially star running back Jim Brown, no longer wanted to play for him due to Coach Brown's autocratic style.

Modell named Coach Brown's assistant, Blanton Collier, as the new coach. The team was very successful under Collier, winning the 1964 championship.

Modell was a very good at promotions and advertising. One very popular innovation was the scheduling of pro-football exhibition game doubleheaders. Modell became active in NFL leadership and its profitable relationship with television, which made him popular with other owners. Along with Pete Rozelle and Roone Arledge he created Monday Night Football and was instrumental in negotiating all the league's increasingly lucrativetelevision contracts.

Modell took an active role in Cleveland community life and was a leading fundraiser for charities and various Republican Party candidates. He married a TV soap opera star and was a well known man about town before that. He was popular with newspaper and TV reporters due to his quick wit. For example, with regard to the NFL's innovative policy of sharing all network television revenue on an equal basis per team, so that the Green Bay Packers and New York Giants each got an equal slice of the revenue pie, he joked, "We're 26 Republicans who vote Socialist!"

As Stadium landlord

Modell also took control of Cleveland Municipal Stadium in 1973 where the team played its home games. The stadium was owned by the City of Cleveland but was too expensive for the city to operate or to maintain.

Modell worked out a deal with the city whereby his newly formed entity, dubbed Stadium Corportion, would rent the stadium from the City for $1 per year, assume all operating and repair costs and would sublease the stadium to its two primary tenants, the Browns and the Indians. In so doing, Modell effectively became the landlord of the Cleveland Indians. This was a good business decision even theough Indians were unsuccessful throughout the 1970s and 1980s and drew small crowds during this period because the Browns were essentially paying rent to themselves and because Modell, by constructing luxury suites in the ballpark, generated large cash flows from the suite rentals which he did not share with the Indians. Stadium Corp also promoted very successful rock concerts, called "The World Series of Rock" at the stadium. These events drew large crowds but usually damaged the baseball field. Modell later alleged that the suites were unsuccessful because he had borrowed the money for construction at the high interest rates that then prevailed, however, he has not accounted for why the piles of money the suites did generate wasn't used to pay down the debt.

Stadium Corp and Modell were implicated in a lawsuit brought by Browns' minority shareholder Robert Gries, who successfully alleged that Stadium Corp had used the Browns to help it absorb a loss on real property that had been purchased in Cleveland suburb of Strongsville as a potential site for a new stadium. The lawsuit, Gries Sports Enterprises v Cleveland Browns Football Co, 26 Ohio St. 3d 15 (1986) was a leading Ohio case concerning a corporate officer's fiduciary duty towards shareholders.

By the 1990s Modell was disturbed at what he saw as the financial distress of the Browns and Stadium Corp, as recounted in detail in the book "Fumble". Simultaneously the Cleveland Indians were dissatisfied with Modell's Stadium Corp as their landlord because Modell did not share the suite revenues from baseball games with them, because the rock concerts damaged the baseball field, and because Modell did not expend any funds to repair their locker room, and as a result the Indians could not attract high quality players to play for them. Eventually the Indians prevailed upon the City of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County to subsidize a new baseball park (which became known as Jacobs Field) for their exclusive use so that they could get out from under Modell's thumb.

In turn, Modell was dissatisfied with the Indians new ball park because Stadium Corporation's suite rental renvenue decreased. Many suite customers switched their business from Cleveland Stadium's older suites to Jacobs Field's newer suites, especially because Modell's Stadium Corporation refused to decrease the annual rent for the suites even though the events the suites could be used at decreased substantially with the loss of the Indians as a tenant.

Modell declined to become a tenant in Cleveland's new Gateway Sports and Entertainment Complex, instead asking for improvements to Municipal Stadium. Because Modell's Stadium Corp still controlled Municipal Stadium, it may have made more business sense for Modell to try to keep the Indians at Municipal, particularly as the baseball team began to show signs of improvement both on the playing field and at the box office. (The Indians went on to play in the World Series in 1995 and 1997, and sold out 455 straight games at Jacobs Field from 1995 until 2001.)

Move to Baltimore

When the Indians and the City of Cleveland declined to abandon the Gateway Project and improve Municipal Stadium as Modell asked, Modell broke off negotiations with the City and County and decided, in secret, to move the team to Baltimore for the 1996. He was assisted in the move by Alfred Lerner who would go on to gain the owner of the new Cleveland Browns franchise in 1998. Modell's move returned the NFL to Baltimore for the first time since the Colts left for Indianapolis after the 1983 season. The reaction in Cleveland was, not surprisingly, very hostile. Surprisingly for Modell, many Baltimore fans sympathized with Clevelanders' outrage. Baltimore was still smarting from Colts owner Robert Irsay's behavior in the run-up to the Colts' move, culminating in the team being literally sneaked out of town in the middle of the night in the winter of 1984. Many people in Baltimore felt that Irsay stole Baltimore's football history as well and didn't think it was fair for them to steal Cleveland's history in the circumstances.

The City of Cleveland sued Modell, the Browns and Stadium Corp for breach of the Browns' lease, which required the Browns to exclusively use Cleveland Stadium for their home games for several seasons after 1995. Eventually, the NFL, Modell and the two cities worked out a deal. Modell was allowed to take his players to Baltimore as the Ravens, but had to leave the Browns' name, colors and heritage in Cleveland. Cleveland was promised a replacement franchise, in the form either of a new team or another relocated franchise and received a loan from the NFL for new stadium construction. In effect, Modell had to surrender the rich Cleveland franchise to the league in exchange for a newer, richer one in Baltimore. The Browns were resurrected in 1999, but Modell has not attended a Ravens game in Cleveland. Many sportswriters and commentators in and outside of Cleveland reviled him, saying that the honorable course would have been to sell the team to local interests, and actively oppose his entry to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He is considered to be the most hated man in Cleveland.

Soon after Modell moved to Baltimore he sold a minority interest to Maryland businessman Steve Bisciotti. Modell sold controlling interest of the team to Bisciotti in 2003, citing ill health. He retains a 1% share and has an office at the Ravens headquarters in Owings Mills, Maryland.

Legacy

Modell's record as a football operator is spotty. While the move to fire Coach Brown remained controversial in Cleveland through Modell's tenure, it appeared to be the correct one given Coach Collier's subsequent successes (ie the 1964 league title and NFL championship game appearances in 1965, 1968 and 1969). Collier retired after the 1970 season due to health reasons and thereafter the Browns under Modell's stewardship not only failed to win any championships, they failed to make an appearance in the Super Bowl championship game. The failure to appear in a Super Bowl was especiallly galling to Modell because during that time frame Paul Browns' Cincinnati Bengal team made two Super Bowl appearances and the Browns chief rival, the Pittsburgh Steelers, won four Super Bowls and appeared in five. Under Modell after the NFL-AFL merger of 1970 through 1995 the Browns won only approximately half of their games.

Modell fueded with his most successful coach after Collier, Marty Schottenheimer, and hired Bill Belichick, who proved to be a dud at public relations and who made many mistakes as coach. Belichick learned from his mistakes and went on to lead New England to several championships. After taking over the new Baltimore franchise Modell finally won a Super Bowl.

In an episode of its The Top 5 Reasons You Can't Blame... series, ESPN Classic examined the Browns move to Baltimore:

  • 5. Bill Belichick. Recognized as a "genius" for how he coached the New England Patriots in the 2000s, he was less than that as Browns coach in the early 1990s, making decisions that soured the city government on the team, leading to their unwillingness to build a new stadium. A difficult case to make, and Belichick's lack of success in Cleveland may be more of a reason to credit Tom Brady, rather than Belichick, for the Pats' success.
  • 3. The success of the Indians in their new ballpark. Since the Indians got Jacobs Field and were doing so well there, Modell thought the city should build him a new stadium as well. This one has some merit.
  • 2. Modell's finances. The "I had no choice" argument. But most other NFL team owners, including those with less-than-modern stadiums, didn't have that kind of financial difficulty. If he needed money that badly, he could have sold the team to a Cleveland businessman or group, including Al Lerner, who bought the new Browns franchise for $530 million. Modell could have taken half of that from Lerner and still had enough money to join in an ownership group for an expansion team in Baltimore.
  • 1. Rock and Roll. Or, rather, the City of Cleveland's building spree, which included the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Jacobs Field, Gund Arena and a Science Center. This is roughly the same reason as #3.

One fact that cannot be overlooked is that, unlike other sports-team owners, Modell never publicly threatened to move the Browns. Others have threatened to move without getting a new stadium or arena from the city, county or state government. Some have gotten the new building, others have been denied and moved, others have been found to be bluffing. Modell asked for a new stadium, but never made a public statement that he would move the team if he didn't get it.

Although he owned a National Football League team for 44 seasons, and has been greatly admired by his fellow team owners, through 2005, Modell has not been elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Modell has no connection to the Modell's chain of sporting goods stores.

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