Cleveland Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam, are interested in becoming minority owners of the NBA Milwaukee Bucks. Might that lead them to someday abandon the NFL?
America’s greatest sports fans, Dee and Jimmy Haslam, own the NFL Cleveland Browns and the Major League Soccer (MLS) Columbus Crew. Now they are reportedly seeking a minority interest in the Milwaukee Bucks, like half a billion dollars worth.
Should that be a cause for concern for Browns fans? Like, are the Browns about to be abandoned by the Haslams if they decide to increase their stake to become majority owners of an NBA team?
Remember that Jimmy Haslam III was a minority owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers for a few years before he became the majority owner of the Browns. They sold their stake in the Steelers when they took on the Cleveland franchise. Perhaps the Haslams might become majority owners of an NBA team in a few years.
Could it be that the Haslams are tiring of their tenure with the Browns? Alternatively, as pragmatic investors, they may regard basketball as a much better investment than football, especially given the precarious state of their Cleveland investment.
They have made the most enormous gamble in NFL history on Deshaun Watson as a way to bring a Super Bowl to Cleveland. We all hope that Watson will indeed return to his 2020 top-five quarterback form and the Browns will go deep into the playoffs every year from now on. Perhaps the City of Cleveland will tidy up its fiscal house and find the money somehow to refurbish FirstEnergy Stadium, perhaps even build a dome over it, and the Haslams will sign a new deal to keep the team in Cleveland until at least 2050.
But can you take that to the bank? What if that does not happen? If Watson should turn out to not be the answer, it will take until 2027 to get out from under his mammoth contract, and they will not have a first-round draft pick until 2025.
The downside of this risk is monumental and the Haslams need to face the possibility that they could blow an enormous amount of money on the Watson gambit if it turns out badly. A return to double-digit loss seasons will surely be reflected in revenues as well. Ticket prices, luxury boxes, merchandise, and everything else depend on the quality of the product on the field.
Watson is not the only Cleveland Brown with a contract that has long-term repercussions, as Andrew Berry has developed the unfortunate habit of backloading long-term contracts. They can hold the wolves at bay for a few years by continuing to defer salary cap charges to future years, but eventually, players reach a certain age where they no longer have a legitimate future and the extensions will run out.
Like credit cards for shopping mall stores, they eventually have to be paid. A contingency plan is necessary for Haslam Sports Group, and perhaps the NBA is that plan.
The outside threat does exist
Many fans take it for granted that the Browns can never be moved, but the truth is that they’re committed to remaining in FirstEnergy Stadium only through the 2028 season. Then they can be legally moved. In the meantime, there are hungry investment groups from cities that have lost teams such as St. Louis, San Diego, and Oakland.
At the same time, there are tremendous opportunities in growing cities such as Austin, Texas; Oklahoma City; Portland, Oregon, Mexico City and others. Yet an even larger threat may be from Europe, which NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell suggests should ultimately support an entire division of teams.
London has the financial muscle to support two teams, and Germany could support teams in Berlin, Frankfurt, or Munich. Paris and Rome are also possible. London seems to be a frontrunner since its metropolitan area contains 14.3 million people. Indeed, they would be representing the entire United Kingdom, with a population of 67 million. The Cleveland Statistical Area, which includes Akron, totals about 3.6 million people.
Browns tickets start at $55 each. NFL tickets at London’s Tottenham Hotspur stadium start at 146 Pounds Sterling, which is equal to about 175 bucks American dollars.
A London franchise (which would probably be one of two franchises located in England, according to the NFL’s plan) might have a value similar to a major market East Coast American team, at least as valuable as the Washington Commanders ($5.6 B) or New York Jets ($5.4 B)s. By comparison, the Browns are valued at about $3.9 B, about $1.5 B less than these major market teams.
"“There’s no question that London could support not just one franchise, I think two franchises. I really believe from a fan perspective, a commercial standpoint and a media standpoint that you [fans] have undoubtedly proven that.” — NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell"
Now, why would the Haslams pass on the opportunity to make over a billion dollars once they have run the Browns franchise into the ground?