By Tony Grossi
Randy Lerner has confirmed he is in negotiations to sell the Cleveland Browns to Jimmy Haslam, a Knoxville, Tn.-based businessman who is a minority partner in the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Rumors that the Browns were for sale were denied by the club in June, but the rumors resurfaced in recent weeks.
Lerner said in a statement released by the club, “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.”
Haslam, 58, is president and CEO of Pilot Travel Centers, the nation’s largest retail operator of travel centers and truck-stops. The company was founded by his father, James Jr., in 1958.
In December of 2008, Haslam was approved by the NFL as a minority partner in the Steelers. The Steelers were forced to find new investors when members of the Rooney family ownership opted to sell.
Haslam would have to divest of his Steelers’ stake, which wouldn’t be a complex transaction.
The Haslam family is considered one of the wealthiest and most influential in the state of Tennessee. Bill Haslam, brother of Jimmy, current is the governor of Tennessee.
Jimmy Haslam is one of biggest benefactors of the University of Tennessee. In 2006, the Haslam family’s gift of $32.5 million was the largest single donation in the university’s history. Haslam personally donated $10 million to his alma mater.
Haslam was a starting tackle for University of Tennessee and graduated in 1976. A few years ago, he sought to buy the Tennessee Titans, but owner Bud Adams was not interested in selling.
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. Forbes recently valued the Browns at $977 million, ranking 20th among all sports franchises estimated by the financial magazine.
Forbes estimates the Haslam family is worth $3 billion.
An NFL spokesman said, “We are aware of the discussions” of a sale of the Browns to Haslam, but deferred further comment to the Browns.
The spokesman said the possibility of the Browns being relocated to Los Angeles has not been discussed. “I wouldn’t go down that road,” the league spokesman said.
A message left for Haslam has not yet been returned.
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There are no games scheduled for today.