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The Suburbanite
  • Haslam ready to take over Browns for $1 billion

  • The new owner of the Cleveland Browns has a stake in part of the NFL team in Pittsburgh, a Goliath of a truck-stop empire, and a lavish vacation home on Nantucket Island.

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  • The Haslam family got its fingerprints on big NFL news a few months ago.
    Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam campaigned for former Tennessee Volunteers quarterback Peyton Manning to sign with the Titans.
    In March, at an event at Lipscomb University, Gov. Haslam said (as recorded by WPLN radio), “I texted him to say ‘free temporary housing in the governor’s residence if you come to Nashville.’”
    It’s more than fingerprints this time. It’s a hammering, heavy fist. Corporate giant Jimmy Haslam, the governor’s brother, has rammed through the purchase of the Cleveland Browns.
    The new owner spent Thursday in the Cleveland area and will be introduced in a press 1 p.m. press conference today.
    Jimmy Haslam is neck deep in big business and high-end politics.
    He is CEO of Pilot Flying J, which employs about 19,000 people at its 550 retail sites in North America, including 24 in Ohio. Forbes magazine reports Pilot Flying J revenues for 2011 were $17.8 billion.
    His father, Jim, is co-chairman of the Tennessee committee to elect Mitt Romney. Jim, 82, began the business that mushroomed into Pilot Flying J with a single gas station in 1958.
    Jimmy Haslam is the oldest of Jim’s three children. He was finance chairman of the 2006 campaign that helped get Bob Corker elected as a U.S. senator — they were roommates at the University of Tennessee.
    Forbes pegged the Browns as the 20th most valuable NFL franchise in its most recent evaluation. Forbes says the Haslam family is worth $3 billion.
    Jimmy Haslam and his wife, Dee, are one of the most prominent couples in Tennessee. They have found their way to other states.
    Jimmy Haslam bought a share of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2008. A 2010 quote from him — “I am 1,000 percent a Steelers fan” — is well traveled in Ohio now.
    Jimmy and Dee own a lavish vacation home on Nantucket Island in Massachusetts, with the Atlantic Ocean as a backdrop.
    Built near a 50-foot bluff, the home’s interior was designed by Elizabeth Corker, the senator’s wife.
    She is quoted in a traditionalhome.com article, saying, “Every window you look from has its view of nature’s artwork. It’s one of the most beautiful spots on Earth.”
    Lerner and Haslam are expected to be partners, at least for a while. Lerner has said often in the past he wants to be part of the Browns when they become a winning team.
    From Lerner’s office overlooking the Browns practice fields, Haslam could see thousands of reasons the team might be worth $1 billion.
    Despite the team’s horrible record, its customers remain plugged in. With new players offering hints of real hope, fans are attending practices at a record pace.
    Page 2 of 2 - As news broke today that the i’s had been dotted on the transfer of ownership, the bleachers ringing the four practice fields were overstuffed.
    So will be Lerner’s wallet. Terms of the sale are a reported $1 billion, with about $700 million to be paid now and about $300 million later. Majority ownership of the Browns has been in the Lerner family since 1998, when the price tag was $550 million for a team that would not begin play until 1999.
    Al Lerner died in the autumn of 2002, at which point his son Randy took over the team, representing his mother, Norma, and his sister, Nancy.
    While the framework of the ownership change is in place, the sale must be approved by the other owners. That process involves a lot of guesswork.
    Some owners might like the fact Haslam knows the ropes of the NFL, having been a part owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers since 2008. Others might rail against setting the precedent wherein a businessman with grand dreams of owning a team gets his education while learning the ways and the secrets of a division rival.
    Randy Lerner attended the first part of Wednesday’s practice with president Mike Holmgren. He was in a hurry to get inside the building when he bumped into two writers while leaving practice.
    Lerner engaged in a polite conversation but he was animated and edgy.
    “Gotta go do some work,” he said.
    His work as owner of the Browns is, in effect, done.