Art Modell: American football team owner


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The Independent Online

Art Modell, who died on 6 September at the age of 87, was a long-standing professional football team owner, who engineered many of the NFL's lucrative television contracts, including Monday Night Football, He also angered one city and thrilled another in 1996, when he moved the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore.

In 1961, Modell bought a controlling interest in the Cleveland Browns for $3.9 million, a then record for an NFL franchise. He became one of the most influential owners. Along with the NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle, Modell negotiated the TV contracts that made NFL owners rich – and made football the US's most popular spectator sport. "Television was my game," he said in 2010. "And that was the game that made the league famous."

When he entered the league annual TV revenues were less than $5m, shared among 14 teams. In 2013, the 32 NFL franchises will take in more than $6bn. "I'm not much of a visionary," Modell said, "but I could see that this rectangular box and the rectangular field were perfectly matched."

Modell helped launch Monday Night Football in 1970, the first time sports appeared regularly on prime-time American TV. He also played a major role in the 1970 merger of the NFL and the rival American Football League. In 2002, Modell named Ozzie Newsome general manager of the Baltimore Ravens, the first African-American to hold the job in the NFL.

Browns fans were infuriated when Modell announced in November 1995 that he was moving the team to Baltimore. He said the city had reneged on promises to build a new stadium, and that he was risking bankruptcy by staying in Cleveland. In 2003, he sold all but 1 per cent of the Ravens for a reported $600 million. In Baltimore, Modell and his wife donated millions of dollars to educational, medical and cultural groups, but he was forever shadowed by the city he left behind.