Bisciotti plans to buy out Modell

Sun Staff

Before leaving for next week's NFL owners meetings, Steve Bisciotti said heis prepared to take the biggest handoff in Ravens history.

Bisciotti, who owns 49 percent of the team, has informed majority owner Art Modell that he will buy the remaining 51 percent and assume control of theRavens after the 2003 season.

The Anne Arundel County businessman bought a minority interest for $275million in 1999, which included the right to buy the rest of the team anytimebetween 2004 and 2006. In his annual lunch with Modell earlier this month,Bisciotti reiterated his intention to purchase the rest of the team's sharesin January for $325 million and become sole owner.

"I'm 90 percent certain that it will be done," Bisciotti said. "As I sithere, my goal is to exercise the option."

This means the 2003 season will be Modell's last after more than fourdecades of ownership.

Modell entered the league in 1961, when he paid $3.93 million for thefranchise, then known as the Cleveland Browns. He was vilified nationwideafter moving the Browns to Baltimore in 1996, but soon returned to the top ofthe football world when the Ravens won Super Bowl XXXV in January 2001.

Now, after the Ravens' surprising success last season, the 77-year-oldowner said he is upbeat about his chances for a memorable exit.

"I do want to go out on top as a winner," Modell said. "But my emotions arepretty clear. I've had a good run. God has been good to me, pulling me throughtwo heart attacks and two hip operations. I have enjoyed the years enormouslyin Cleveland and especially in Baltimore."

Bisciotti intends to keep Modell around as a consultant and has gone out ofhis way to pay him the utmost respect. In the team's new trainingheadquarters, Modell will have an office just feet away from Bisciotti's.

"Art is a great resource for me," Bisciotti said. "I want to keep Artinvolved. I think it would be insensitive of me - and shortsighted of me - tobelieve that I didn't need his advice and direction over these next few years.I'm looking forward to his involvement."

Although he always wanted to hand over the team to his two sons, Modellsaid he has no regrets in his dealings with Bisciotti. Four years ago, Modellsought an investor to help pay off the debt acquired in moving the team fromCleveland.

"He's a very fine individual," Modell said. "I think he's a quick study. Ithink he has a passion for the game. I think he'll be a good, solid owner inthe NFL."

In preparation for the changeover, Bisciotti has raised hisbehind-the-scenes presence. He estimated that his time spent with the Ravenshas increased from 30 percent last year to 60 percent this year.

Bisciotti has played an active role in the team's negotiations for newradio and medical contracts and has overseen the Ravens' soon-to-be-built,97,000-square-foot practice facility in Owings Mills.

This approach likely will be typical of Bisciotti, 42, who would become theleague's second-youngest owner. Unlike the NFL's youngest owner - theWashington Redskins' Daniel Snyder - Bisciotti doesn't foresee himself beinghands-on in day-to-day personnel matters.

"I don't know if anyone will notice a difference between now and the daywhen I technically take over," Bisciotti said. "It will be a fairly smoothtransition. As far as the football decisions, Ozzie [Newsome, general manager]will still have the final say."

Attempts to create a seamless transition began last year, when Newsome andcoach Brian Billick were signed to extensions. By locking up Newsome andBillick through Bisciotti's first couple of seasons as owner, the franchisekeeps continuity in the front office.

"What Steve and Art have been able to do is probably going to be seen asthe best way to acquire a franchise," Newsome said. "Steve has had three yearsto watch and understand the business. When and if he takes over, he will notbe jumping into the water for the very first time. He comes in with a sense ofwhat direction he wants the franchise to go. From that standpoint, it's notgoing to be a lot of change."

Bisciotti, though, has experienced drastic change to become an NFL owner.

A year after graduating from Salisbury State in 1982, Bisciotti started hiscompany, Allegis (formerly Aerotek), in a basement office in Annapolis, withtwo old desks and a carpet stuck together with duct tape. Allegis, based inHanover, has grown into one of the nation's leading technical staffing firms.

But Bisciotti, who grew up as a Colts fan, never thought about becoming aprofessional sports owner until 1993.

"I can honestly say when Peter Angelos bought the Orioles - and I loved theOrioles growing up as much as I loved the Colts - that's when I was exposed toa local guy buying a team and I was envious of him," said Bisciotti, who is agraduate of Severna Park High. "When you're 35 years old, you're not thinkingabout being a professional ballplayer anymore."

Now, he is less than a year removed from taking control of one of the mostlucrative franchises in the NFL. According to a magazine last year, the Ravenswere valued at $607 million, fifth highest in the league.

To Bisciotti, acquiring the Ravens has been worth the wait.

"I'm looking forward to it," he said. "It's been the absolute optimal wayto enter the NFL. To sit back and learn for these past three years, I'm justready."

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