The Ohio Bengals
That was the headline of the latest article at cleveland.com by Brent Larkin. Now Larkin isn't a sports writer. He's a retired political and editorial writer and his article wasn't about bad quarterback play or bad drafting, it was about bad owners. This is why Larkin's story wasn't funny, but ominous.
At the end the article, I jumped into the comments section and reacted to a talking point about a new stadium. Instead of re-typing it, I simply cut and pasted it. The Browns current stadium is 21 years old:
Reply to @Great idea: Great Idea brings up a good point. Dee Haslem started the conversation about a new stadium in 10 years a few years back. Tell cleveland.com to send a reporter to Columbus to see how the Crew Stadium blueprint was set up. The Columbus Crew are owned by the Haslems and they're building a stadium for around $250 Million. Half Public Money, Half Crew L.L.C money. How much are the Haslems actually paying? If they're majority owners of the Crew, probably around $60-80 million. So if they want a billion dollar stadium in Cleveland, they'll probably use a similar model and they're going to START with Cleveland paying, at least, $500 million....
It literally took 10 minutes of research to see what a sample Stadium proposal from the Haslem Family would look like.
On the afternoon of January 13, I was listening to 92.3 The Fan and the conversation meandered to a talking point of whether other owners thought that the Haslems were idiots or not. The guest piped up, "far from it." Every single owner WANTS to win, but they care more about the bottom line and revenue streams than anything else. The Haslems' franchise worth continues to increase while behind the scenes the Haslem Family does a lot of work for creating wealth for other NFL owners. The guest continued, "the fans may be angry, but not the other owners."
And my heart sank.
You know what, in order to finish this article, I'm going to have to think like a Scumbag Billionaire instead of a Blogger. So with that I'm going to let "Freddie" Haslem finish his argument, behind closed doors, to the other owners.
"What y'all don't fully understand is that the NFL is coming into a new generation of stadiums and a new regional footprint within a global world view.
The new SoFi Stadium is going to cost nearly $5 billion dollars and house 2 NFL teams. The Los Angeles television market in the second largest in the nation. The largest television market in the nation, New York, just opened up their 2 team stadium 10 years ago. That stadium cost one and a three-quarters of a billion dollars. The Falcons, Raiders, Vikings, and Cowboys all have Billion Dollar (+) stadiums. I just named a quarter of the league in 3 sentences. Browns Stadium is already in the bottom half of the league when it comes to stadium ages. What we are proposing is an expansion of the NFL within existing markets while exploring new markets. What I specifically propose is moving either the Browns or the Bengals to Columbus and instead of City Money only, we leverage the State of Ohio and the City of Columbus to build a 2 billion dollar stadium in Ohio's Capital.
Why would the State of Ohio foot some of the bill for a 2 billion dollar stadium? Because they only want to lose one team, not two.
Here's my two proposals:
Mike Brown, you can be the good guy. You're not getting any younger, you'll be 90 when the Bengals' lease is up. The city of Cincinnati will not build you a 2 billion dollar stadium, they just won't. They won't build you a one billion dollar stadium. They won't build you a new half a billion dollar stadium. What you're going to get from Cincinnati is a lot of hand-wringing and hate. You need to start laying the groundwork now. If you want to keep the Bengals in your Family, you need to start exploring a move to Columbus. I have worked with the people in Columbus and they would LOVE to have an NFL franchise. So instead of the hate you get from the fans of Cincinnati, you'll replace that with love from football fans across the state. I firmly believe that the City of Columbus and the State of Ohio will step up with a state-of-the-art facility. I even think that you could build a 100,000 seat stadium in cooperation with Ohio State. You would have a football home for the entire state. Imagine the Ohio Bengals, Ohio State Buckeyes, and the Ohio High School Playoffs all in one facility. Ohio Stadium is almost a 100 years old, and as much as I love tradition, Ohio State has to be interested in additional revenue streams as much as we are. You'd be a hero for unifying the Paul Brown legacy across the state.
And you'd have the #19, #34, & #35 TV markets in your territory. Combined you would have a Top 10 market in America. You would own Ohio and I'd be a free agent. The people of Cleveland would drive me to the airport and even the hardcore Cleveland fans that lament that Paul Brown should have never had to leave would be glad to see me go. I could move back to Tennessee and have the Memphis Browns. I could go to Texas and have either the Austin Browns or the San Antonio Browns. Or, and this is what would grow the game the most, my wife and I envision the Mexico City Browns. Now, of course, we'd have to change the name, Mexican Browns would be a little problematic in today's culture, but I would be leaving a mid-market in America for a potential market of 120 million. The NFL would be a truly international product and we would own Latin America in a way that the NBA owns China. My fan base would be a country, not a city. There wouldn't be any logistical problems with time zones. I can envision a Mexico City Franchise worth 4-5 billion when I'm done down there.
People said that LeBron would never leave Cleveland twice, but guess what? It only took 4 years for him to change his mind and Cleveland didn't burn down. They were furious that the Browns left the first time, but 90% of them would root for an Ohio team in Columbus. You know how many people I talk to who make the road trip from Cleveland to Columbus for home Buckeye games? Cleveland to Columbus is just slightly farther than the North Boston Suburbs to Foxboro.
A Mexico City Browns Model makes me money, makes the league money, and expands the product.
Mike Brown, you sell the Bengals. Just flat out sell and take that check from the highest bidder. I will follow the Columbus Plan, and quite frankly, we enjoy the relationships that we have built in Columbus. What we get in Cleveland is a bunch of questions and static. If we move to Columbus, I could see the Haslems owning Ohio for 50 years. I can see my wife Dee becoming a hands-on version of Virginia Halas McCaskey.
Mike, cash that 2 Billion Dollar check and don't look back. You've set up generations of the Brown Family and I'll even place plaques up at the new Columbus Stadium honoring the contributions that the Brown Family have made to the National Football League.
There's over 2 dozen billionaires in Toronto, Ontario alone, you could sell to someone who wants to bring the NFL to Canada and the league could own the country up North like the Raptors own the NBA. What we can't have is 2 teams, 4 hours apart looking for stadiums in the same state. I am telling you, Columbus is itching to build a palace. We both know that Cleveland and Cincinnati are not.
If you consolidate the Cleveland and Cincinnati markets, it's like getting an expansion franchise for free without watering down the product. Just like when the Raiders moved to Las Vegas. The NFL kept their footprint in the Bay Area, while creating a second footprint in the desert Southwest.
Either plan works for me, because I want to be one of the owners that helps the NFL transition through the next generation. And that next generation is a regional model, not a city model."
Except for hardcore fans, can you imagine fantasy football players or fans on either coast getting riled up over the Browns or the Bengals moving to Columbus?
Can you name any wealthy benefactors who would buy the Browns OR the Bengals, keep them in their home cities, and then buy them a new state-of-the-art stadium to boot? I can't think of one. Not even on the speculation level.
Can I imagine Jimmy Haslem being a good steward and fulfilling, then extending, the current Browns lease without the threat of moving? I can't envision that either. I know either scenario is 8-10 years out, but time moves at a different rate for real estate development.
I can easily envision all of the evil Billionaire stuff speculated above.
And the Browns' constant losing doesn't help big picture issues coming up in the near future.
Because winning on the field is not the same as winning ($$$$$) off of the field.