MOVING THE BALL
FEBRUARY 8, 1996
Tom Bearden has a background report on Cleveland's fight to keep the Browns from moving to Baltimore.
TOM BEARDEN: December 17th was a very dark day for Cleveland. Angry football fans hung in effigy Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell outside the stadium. Inside, cheering fans brandished signs saying, "Nobody Backstabs Cleveland," and "Rot in Hell, Modell." The city's beloved Browns, one of the foundation franchises of the National Football League, played what could be their last game in Cleveland. After the final gun, some fans ripped out the seats to take home a souvenir.
FEMALE FAN: What's Cleveland without the Browns? What's Cleveland without a football team at all?
MALE FAN: You might as well stick a knife in the backs of the community and twist it, my opinion.
TOM BEARDEN: And that's now most of Cleveland felt on November 6th when Modell unexpectedly held a press conference with Maryland Governor Parris Glendening to announce that the Browns were moving to Baltimore.
GOV. PARRIS GLENDENING, Maryland: (Nov. 6th) Ladies and gentlemen, we have a signed contract in hand. (applause) The Browns are, indeed, coming to Baltimore. (cheers and applause) We are standing on the very spot where in less than three short years I believe 70,000 cheering fans will be cheering for Maryland's new team, the Baltimore Browns. (cheering and applause)
TOM BEARDEN: The trouble is more than 70,000 fans have been cheering the Browns for almost five decades in Cleveland. Their zeal is legendary in the NFL. One of the end zones is known as the "dog pound." Thanks to television, it's denizens are world famous. Barking at opponents, tossing dog biscuits on the field. In this steel mill town, football is serious business. The Browns are an integral part of the city's social fabric. Bob Grace is co-chairman of a fan organization called "The Browns Backers."
BOB GRACE, "Browns Backers": This is something that is bred into our community from the time kids are little. It's something that we can hand down to our children.
TOM BEARDEN: Why would the owner of a team with that kind of loyalty want to move? For one thing, Cleveland's football stadium was built in 1931. It's very expensive to maintain, and it lacks the amenities and the income of the much newer baseball and basketball ventures that just opened last year. Those new facilities became a sore point for Art Modell. For example, the new home of the Cleveland Cavaliers has luxurious sky boxes equipped with all the extras. They bring in $175,000 apiece every season. The cash flow is vital in maintaining a competitive team as players' salaries head for the stratosphere. In the old football stadium, the premium boxes brought in only $50,000, and Modell was feeling the pinch as he was forced to pay his players ever-higher salaries. Browns owner Modell told the city that the changing economics of professional sports demanded he get a new stadium as well. Mayor Michael White thought the Browns' contribution to Cleveland's economy also required the team stay in town. He says the millions of dollars that Browns' fans spend result in thousands of jobs.
MAYOR MICHAEL WHITE, Cleveland: It contributes 47 million dollars to our economy's bottom line. That number is growing. It's a part of a brand new entertainment venue that includes the Rock'n Roll Hall of Fame, the Science and Tech Museum. It is an entity that is part of our selling program, to especially the best and the brightest around the country, when we talk about Cleveland being a major league city. It also carries our moniker all over the world.
TOM BEARDEN: But according to Modell, local politicians didn't react fast enough to his dilemma. He claims promises to fix the rundown stadium were repeatedly broken. So Modell turned to Baltimore, a town that ironically lost its beloved Colts to Indianapolis in 1984. Maryland offered Modell a $200 million deal that included a new stadium with lots of sky boxes, a $75 million moving fee, millions more from seat licenses, concessions, and parking, even a big chunk of revenue from non-football events. Cleveland's counter-offer of $175 million to refurbish the old stadium would have been a nearly complete reconstruction as depicted by this computer animation, but Modell's lawyer told the NewsHour it was too late and claimed it was financially questionable. Modell isn't the only NFL owner to see financially greener pastures. Just this past year, the Los Angeles Rams moved to St. Louis, replacing the St. Louis Cardinals, who had moved to Phoenix in 1988. The Oakland Raiders moved to Los Angeles in 1982 and then moved back this year. Next season, the Houston Oilers will be playing in Nashville. Five other teams are said to be considering moving too. But Mayor White said Cleveland is not going to let its team go without a fight.
MAYOR MICHAEL WHITE: See, everybody expected us to kind of look down at the ground, take our broken teeth out, get 'em repaired, and stick our tail between our legs and go home and say, well, it's Cleveland, what do you expect? We didn't do that. This community stood up on its haunches and said, we're mad as hell, we're not going to take it.
TOM BEARDEN: The city has filed suit against Modell, claiming his stadium lease requires the team to play in Cleveland until 1998. The city has also launched a massive public relations campaign. This sign across from City Hall flashes, "Stop Art Modell," 24 hours a day. Poster-size petitions are everywhere in the city--fast food restaurants, public buildings. A chain of photo shops puts baby pictures on fliers, "Babies Against the Browns' Exit." A pet store has a similar campaign for dogs. People can even sign petitions to keep the Browns in Cleveland on the Internet. Gary Christopher is in charge of the campaign's electronic side.
GARY CHRISTOPHER, "Save Our Browns": You know, we have the dog centerfield, but now we've got the dogs in cyberspace.
TOM BEARDEN: The Internet connection also allows Browns' fans to get support from and coordinate with other cities facing a team loss.
GARY CHRISTOPHER: We are supplying information for Houston, Tampa, and other areas where they're in the same dilemma, so we're helping those cities too.
BOB GRACE: I think that in the long run, whatever we do here will stop this from happening or slow down this process from happening in another city.
TOM BEARDEN: Cleveland hopes the petitions will persuade the NFL owners, who must approve all moves, to reject Modell's plan. That might be a tough sell. NFL owners originally vetoed the Oakland Raiders' first move to Los Angeles. They were sued by Raiders owner Al Davis and were forced to pay him $50 million in damages. The "Browns Backers" are counting on pressure from Congress to help persuade the owners to take a stand. Mayor White says all these efforts are worth it, not for the sake of sports, but for the sake of the city's economy.
MAYOR MICHAEL WHITE: The best thing we can do is to create full employment for the people living in the cities, and you're not going to do that with social welfare programs, so for me, I see our economic development projects, and that's what the Browns situation is, is a part of a much larger issue of employing our citizens in a variety of ways.
TOM BEARDEN: There has been little local criticism of Cleveland's counter-offer. A tax measure to pay for it passed by a landslide. Not so in Maryland, where the $200 million it would take to build a new stadium for the Browns is being questioned by more and more state legislators.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Since Tom Bearden filed that report, yet another team has announced plans to move. The Seattle Seahawks want to become Los Angeles's latest football team.