On November 6, 1995, the owner of the Cleveland Browns football team announces that he is moving the team to Baltimore. The team owner, Art Modell, had purchased the Browns in October 1960 for $4 million. He loved his team and the fans, he said, but Cleveland Stadium was a mess and the city, after building a new baseball stadium and a new basketball arena, didn’t seem inclined to fix it. “They took me for granted,” Modell said, “until I had to pull the trigger.”
Cleveland fans were devoted to their team—average attendance at home games during the 1994 season was 70,000, and was even higher than that during the 1995 season—and they were furious at Modell when they heard the news. At Browns games, they held up homemade signs protesting the move. They heckled unprintably from the sidelines. They wrote angry letters to the newspaper. Cleveland’s mayor vowed to “fight to keep the Browns so we don’t lose our team in the middle of the night” (a reference to the now-Indianapolis Colts’ disappearance from Baltimore in 1984). A county referendum would have provided nearly $50 million in revenue from a “sin tax” on alcohol and cigarettes, but for Modell, that wasn’t enough. “It’s just not the answer,” he told reporters. “It doesn’t do the job.”
Baltimore, on the other hand, offered Modell a lulu of a deal: One year in the Colts’ old Memorial Stadium and then a brand-new, $200 million stadium next to Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The new stadium would have 70,000 seats, 108 luxury boxes and 7,500 pricey “club seats.” Modell would get a hefty chunk of money from seat license fees, which fans had to pay to get season tickets, along with percentages of parking and concessions. Best of all, as far as Modell was concerned, the team wouldn’t have to pay any rent. This, he argued, was good for everyone, because it meant he had more money to pay free agents, which in turn would bring better players.
Indeed, just five years after they started playing in Baltimore, Modell’s team—now called the Ravens—made it to the Super Bowl. Meanwhile, a businessman named Alfred Lerner brought an NFL expansion team—that is, not a team relocated from another city—back to Cleveland in 1999. So the Browns are back, but resentment toward Modell and the league remains. As one fan put it: “To me, the Cleveland Browns are a symptom and the NFL is their disease… They’ll take a sport like this and turn the fans into background for the cameras. And if they can do it to us, they can do it to anyone.”