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News » A peek inside business side of Browns

A peek inside business side of Browns

A peek inside business side of Browns

Dana Point, Calif. - When owner Randy Lerner formally presented Eric Mangini as Browns coach on Jan. 8, he gave Mike Keenan the task of making the formal introduction in front of the media.

The first words Keenan spoke were to introduce himself as Browns president - a necessary thing to do because he has not been in the public eye since being named to the position in May 2008.

Behind the scenes, Keenan is an influential confidante of Lerner's. In fact, he accompanied Lerner - and participated in - the searches that produced Mangini as coach and George Kokinis as general manager.

In the newest Browns organization chart, Keenan is in charge of all business operations and reports to Lerner. Mangini and Kokinis sit jointly in charge of all Football operations and likewise report to Lerner.

Keenan took time out during the NFL owners meetings here for an interview. Excerpts follow.

Question: The Browns recently laid off about 18 employees, and Crain's Cleveland Business reported 30 stadium suite leases are up. There's also talk of a few major sponsorship deals expiring. What's the state of the team economically right now?

Answer: I think we face challenges. We're not immune. Because of how we position ourselves, we think we'll be able to renew all those deals.

Q: Are the economics more pressing right now than at any time since the franchise's rebirth in 1999?

A: Well, 1999 was unique. I wasn't here. But when the team returned in '99 there was a lot of excitement, a lot of passion, and they sold against that. I think now, what we're doing, we're finding some of those 10-year deals have expired, some of the sponsors want to come back, some don't, other new sponsors are coming in. I think we're focused. We have our challenges. But I think we're up to meeting those challenges.

Q: How do you reconcile those economic hardships with investing so much money ($500,000 to $2 million) into the building on improvements that Mangini has asked for?

A: I think they're unrelated. I think you have your revenues, which we face every year - tickets, selling sponsorships, selling suites. I think we have those challenges every year. We run the business like that. In terms of capital expenditures, we also have an annual process. We have a budget each year for capital expenditures. We sit down and set aside a piece of our revenues for capital improvements. I think this year was a little bit unique with a new coach and a new general manager. They have new thoughts and ideas. We sit down with them. They say this is what we would like. We look at it and say we have some of this in the budget, some of it we have to trade stuff out. For example, last year when Romeo [Crennel] was here, we replaced the two back [practice] fields. Our plan was to replace the other two this year. We didn't have enough money in the budget to do all four of them last year, so we did two last year and two this year. We budgeted for that. Some of the other items in there, we have a budget for capital expenditures. When Eric and I discussed them, he prioritized them and they made sense to me. But they're unrelated to the economics we face.

Q: How much does the team's losing affect the economics? In other words, are the corporate community and the fans being turned off by the losing?

A: Listen, everybody wants to win. I want to win. Randy wants to win. What I've learned in my short time in Cleveland is Browns fans are fans of the club and they support the club and they're passionate about the club. You know more about that than I do. When the team left, it was the fans that brought it back. So, to me, yes, everybody wants to win. But what I've found is Browns fans are passionate and want to see a winner, and they believe that Cleveland will have a winner.

Q: How urgent is it, then, for this new regime to turn this thing around to keep fans from getting further disenchanted?

A: There's pressure every year. To say this year has more pressure than other years? Our goal every year is to win. We want to win, short and simple.

Q: There's a prevalent feeling that Lerner will sell the team if this new regime doesn't work out. What's his state of mind about this new regime?

A: I would say he's in a positive frame of mind. He's excited about Eric, excited about George, excited about what's coming up in the draft. He's excited about the upcoming season.

Q: You were involved in the search process for a new coach and GM. Why was there such a suddenness in naming Mangini as coach when no other team pursued him?

A: Yes, I was involved in the process. Randy and I met with several candidates. We checked background, checked with the Jets. We checked in terms of the league, got various thoughts from other people. I think what happened in the case of Eric was we found somebody that had head coaching experience previously. And in our instance . . . I would say it was an anomaly that he was available. He had two of three winning seasons, only made the playoffs once, but had two of three winning seasons. And I think when we sat down with him, there was a connection. What we found out was Eric was very smart, he's got a sense of humor, he's passionate about what he does, he's energetic. As you get to spend more time with him, I think you'll see a lot of the traits that we saw in him. So I think we're very happy with our choice.

Q: There's a perception the Browns are not media-friendly and I would say, as a result, not fan-friendly. The culture that Mangini brings to limit the information flow is well known. Is your team fan-friendly?

A: Fan-friendly, I think we are. We send out information to our fans, we send out e-blasts, we have surveys, we have the Fan Squad where fans can let us know what's on their mind. So there's communication two ways. I feel we kind of know what's going on with them. As for the head coach, I wouldn't say he's not fan-friendly or [not] media-friendly. He's got a process. One of the things that came out was he didn't meet with the players right away. In fact, he had a plan to meet with the players. He wanted to wait for players to be back in for off-season workouts. He wanted to prepare so he knew enough about each player by watching film, to read about them, to talk to people about them. He's visited with probably half the team and will continue when he gets back to Cleveland. The same he'll do with the media, one on one. I can appreciate what you say, but I think we've been proactive, at least letting you know of significant events like player signings.

Q: Brady Quinn's name in trade rumors elicits tons of responses. One thing Lerner said in November was he hoped the team would commit to one quarterback going forward. Do you guys feel that's necessary?

A: We hired a head coach and general manager to address that situation. It's not my job. It's ultimately their decision.

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter: tgrossi@plaind.com, 216-999-4670

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: March 27, 2009

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