By Will Burge | ESPNCleveland.com
It seems like every time you turn on the news there is a development in the Jimmy Haslam investigation at Pilot Flying J. With all the drama, it is easy to forget that the team is only hours away from beginning their 2013 training camp.
Could an organization operate normally with this hanging over their owner’s head? Could a fan base and market rally around a team that has done nothing but lose and create dysfunction since its return in 1999?
Browns C.E.O Joe Banner assured the media Wednesday that the answers to both those questions are positive.
“We’re operating the team exactly as we would whether (the investigation) had happened or not,” said Banner. “Jimmy (Haslam) is here and incredibly supportive and a huge asset to us and I think he has made it clear and I have tried to make it clear without any ambiguity at all that he is not going to sell the team.”
Not only has the team operated normally, but Banner insists that in a single offseason there has already been a shift in stigma around the Browns’ organization. Once known as the doldrums of the league and a place to collect a paycheck, Banner feels the Browns are now a viable competitor on the open market.
“I think it’s been overlooked a little that we had two free agents that a lot of teams in the league were interested in and the fact that they chose to come here was an important message to our team and an important message to the league,” said Banner. “I think the fact that we signed John Greco yesterday; you don’t sign players early unless they’re optimistic about where they are and it’s a place they want to be.”
“I think that’s a really good sign about how the league is kind of adjusting their thinking about what it would be to come and play and coach here and those kinds of things which I think will help us a lot in the long run.”
After winning five or fewer games in 8 of the last 10 seasons, Banner also boasted that the team had a 94% season ticket renewal rate (which is higher than average) and increased sales across the board.
“We have sold more season tickets than the Browns have sold since at least the return (to Cleveland in 99’),” said Banner. “More suites, more club seats, more new marketing partnerships so there is a lot of optimism and positive feelings about where the franchise is heading and I think it started with (Haslam) taking over leading the team and the vision he had and the team we have put together to run it.”
League reputation is good. Excitement is great. Results are better.
Thursday afternoon, the toughest part of the journey will begin. Once the team takes the field for training camp, all those other factors will be molded by one thing and one thing only; victories.
Banner also said the team has upgraded parts of the stadium including cleanliness and cell phone reception. In the past, you were lucky to receive a text message.
The team is also looking into major renovations of First Energy Stadium. If they decide to move forward with those changes, construction would begin in January and last through two off-season’s.
Josh Gordon, who was suspended two games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, knows “his rope that’s left isn’t long” according to Banner. Gordon apparently has a lot of work ahead of him to regain the team’s trust.
Banner also said the team is encouraged by how hard Brandon Weeden has worked and how bad he wants to win. This backs up his statement on The Really Big Show from Tuesday that no one knows if he is the future at the quarterback position, but they certainly are hopeful in what they have seen from their second year starter.
|Will Burge covers the Browns for ESPNCleveland.com and hosts 3 Deep, Monday - Friday from 7pm-9pm.|
Follow Will on Twitter @WillBurge
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