CLEVELAND - The sale of the Cleveland Browns to a Tennessee businessman has been completed, the team confirmed Thursday.
Owner Randy Lerner sold a majority stake to 58-year-old Jimmy Haslam, who is the CEO of the Pilot Flying J Corporation.
"This is a very exciting time for my family and me," said Haslam. "To own such a storied franchise as the Cleveland Browns, with its rich tradition and history, is a dream come true. We are committed to keeping the team in Cleveland and seeing it get back to the elite of the NFL – something all Browns fans want and deserve. We plan to bring relentless dedication and hard work to every aspect of this organization, and we look forward to getting to know this team and community as quickly as possible. Our family is committed to becoming an integral part of the Cleveland community. We also want to thank Randy Lerner for his friendship, counsel and support during this process."
The initial word of the completed sale came from ESPN's NFL reporter, Adam Schefter, when he tweeted this message at 11:22 a.m. Thursday:
"Sale of Browns is now official and complete. Randy Lerner sold them to Jimmy Haslam for in excess of $1 billion."
The Associated Press reported Lerner will sell 70 percent of the Browns to Haslam now, with the other 30 percent reverting to him four years after the closing date, according to a source who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the sale has not officially been announced.
Randy Lerner issued this statement Thursday:
"On behalf of my family and as trustee for the Lerner Family Trust, which holds the shares of the Cleveland Browns, I have agreed to sell the Browns to Jimmy Haslam and his family.
"I was approached regarding Mr. Haslam's interest several weeks ago. While as a fiduciary I have always felt it was my responsibility to listen to offers, I had not been approached with a proposal that felt as natural and complete as Mr. Haslam's. He had done a lot of work on the Browns and the City of Cleveland and first and foremost gave me his personal assurance the team would remain in Cleveland.
"As I was at first overwhelmed, I asked for a few days to consider the proposal during which time I consulted with my mother and sister. Over this short period we agreed that the proposal was strong, the buyers made sense and the time was right for us to move on.
"Going forward, we anticipate that the League will meet and vote on the deal and the closing is expected to follow shortly thereafter. During this time the organization will operate as it has in the past with all senior executives in place.
"While a statement like this is certainly part of the process, it couldn't possibly capture my feelings towards the Browns and the many people whom I feel very strong about. Those feelings therefore will need to be expressed in person. Notwithstanding, I feel a deep debt of gratitude to the loyal and passionate fan base, as well as the people I've met and worked with over the years. It has been a privilege to be involved with the Cleveland Browns and my only hope is that the Haslam family has the best of luck and that the Browns are restored to their rightful place among NFL Champions."
The sale must be approved by the NFL, and 24 of the 32 teams must give it a thumbs up. The AP said no date has been set for a vote because the sale has not been presented to the league yet.
Friday, the team issued a statement saying the team was in negotiations with Haslam, but said the deal wasn't complete. Owner Randy Lerner said he was giving up controlling interest in the team.
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