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Deal clears NFL path to Baltimore

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CHICAGO -- The National Football League last night reached a tentativeaccord with the city of Cleveland that will bring a renamed Browns franchiseto Baltimore this year and a replacement team to Cleveland by 1999.

The agreement, if approved today by NFL owners, will fill a void left inBaltimore by the departure of the Colts 12 years ago and preserve for theleague a market that has been as supportive as any in the country.

With the agreement, all sides in the conflict declared victory.

"We believe the agreement achieves what we set out to get three monthsago: our team, our name and our colors," said Cleveland Mayor Michael White.

Twenty-three of the NFL's 30 franchises must vote to approve theagreement, but passage appeared likely with the endorsement of the city ofCleveland and NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue.

"I don't think it will have any trouble passing with the recommendation ofthe stadium and the finance committees," said Robert Tisch, co-owner of theNew York Giants.

The agreement also must be translated into a final, written contract,which must be approved by NFL owners at their meetings next month and by theCleveland City Council.

Mr. Tagliabue made no public comments last night, but issued a statementsaying, "This is a historic agreement."

Browns owner Art Modell said: "I am happy for the people of Cleveland. Iam happy for the people of Baltimore, and I am happy most of all for theModell family.

"It has been a long siege and I am happy it is almost over."

On Nov. 6, Mr. Modell announced his intention to move the Browns, citingthe inadequacy of Cleveland Stadium and frustration with negotiations toreplace the facility, which was built in 1931.

The announcement set off a firestorm of criticism nationwide of Mr. Modelland the NFL, which has seen five clubs announce their intentions to move inthe past year.

"Baltimore is incredibly empathetic for what Cleveland went through. Weunfortunately didn't get that a dozen years ago," said Maryland StadiumAuthority chairman John Moag, who spent the past two days here helping tohammer out the agreement.

"Football is a tough game to get back into town and I said from thebeginning that there would be bumps in the road, but I don't think thattempers this," Mr. Moag said.

John W. Frece, a spokesman for Parris N. Glendening, said the Marylandgovernor "is encouraged by today's action by NFL owners in Chicago. He isoptimistic that the owners will return an NFL franchise to Baltimore, where itbelongs."

Mr. Moag, meanwhile, said the Maryland Stadium Authority will drop its $36million antitrust suit against the league once the agreement is final.

Likewise, the deal calls for Cleveland to drop its lawsuit against theBrowns, a case that was scheduled for trial Monday. The city sought to forcethe Browns to play the final three seasons of their lease at ClevelandStadium.

Instead, Cleveland will build a 72,000-seat stadium at the site of thecurrent facility. The city estimates this will cost between $220 million and$230 million, and will be paid for by league financing and a $175 millionpackage of tax increases and borrowing already approved by Cleveland.

Cleveland also agreed not to lure a team itself, leaving its footballdestiny in the NFL's hands.

In return, the city will get to keep the Browns' name, colors and recordsfor use by another team that the league promises to bring to the city, throughexpansion or relocation, by 1999.

The agreement specifies that if an existing team is moved to Cleveland,the club cannot be breaking its lease and must meet the NFL's eight-pointrelocation criteria, which measure community support and financial viability.

Also, the new club must sign a 30-year lease. Fred Nance, lead attorneyfor Cleveland in the negotiations, said, "While we could have, I have nodoubt, kept this team here for the next three years, we instead get a team forthe next 30 years."

Mr. Modell will reimburse the city for up to $2.25 million in legal andother expenses as well as $9.3 million in damages over four BTC years. Thatmoney likely will come from the sale of permanent seat licenses (PSLs) atBaltimore's new stadium.

Mr. Modell also must pay the NFL a relocation fee of $29 million -- $20million upfront and $9 million to be paid over 15 years, sources said. Mr.Modell also agreed to forgo any share of an expansion fee if Cleveland isgiven a new team.

The most controversial element of the deal to some owners is a line ofcredit the NFL will provide Cleveland, which will be paid back with interestby the team that eventually plays there. The agreement specifies that theleague will lend $28 million to $48 million for the stadium, depending uponcosts.

The league has been reluctant to fund stadiums. "It is a new concept. Ithink it may work. It has to work," said Mr. Tisch.

San Diego Chargers owner Alex Spanos said, "I believe in revenue sharing.If that's what we have to do to help a city or help a team, I believe we haveto be there when they need that help."

Less enthusiastic was Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson, an ardent opponentof the Browns' move: "I'm not in favor of the NFL financing stadiums aroundthe country. It would be a very big precedent."

The deal, finally struck at 8 EST last night, capped a long day that beganwith NFL officials trying to persuade Mr. Modell to sell or turn over his teamto Clevelanders and accept an expansion team in Baltimore in two years.

Mr. Modell and Mr. Moag forcefully rejected that idea, sending thebargainers back to the table, and, eventually, to agreement.

"I think they hoped Maryland would give a little more, but our agreementis our agreement. The state of Maryland has stepped up to the plate," Mr. Moagsaid.

Mr. Modell's team -- to be renamed through a fan contest -- will play thisseason and next at Memorial Stadium while a $200 million stadium is builtadjacent to Oriole Park. The team will move into the stadium in 1998.

There are efforts in the General Assembly to revoke funding for thestadium, but Mr. Moag said he is confident they will not succeed.

"I think this is good news, basically," said state Sen. Barbara A.Hoffman, chairwoman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee and a keysupporter of the stadium plan. "Now all of the lawsuits are off and Mr. Modellcan move."

Ms. Hoffman said, though, that it was unclear whether Mr. Modell wouldhave lower-than-expected relocation costs.

"If his costs are less, then we may have better grounds to use some of thePSL money for construction," Ms. Hoffman said.

Many legislators want to tap into the money generated by the sale of PSLsto help build the stadium and lower the state's costs.

Deal's key points

* Cleveland will get a new NFL team by 1999, either by expansion or the moveof an existing franchise that meets league criteria for relocation.

* The Browns immediately will move to Baltimore and leave behind their nameand colors.

* The NFL will lend $28 million to $48 million to Cleveland to help build astadium. The loan will be repaid by the owners of the new Cleveland team.* Cleveland will stay all litigation, pending today's vote by NFL owners.

* Browns owner Art Modell will reimburse Cleveland for up about $12 million inlegal expenses and damages. He also will pay the NFL a relocation fee of $29million.

-Sun staff writers Ken Rosenthal, Mike Preston, Vito Stellino and Thomas W. Waldron contributed to this article.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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