On Thursday, the sale of the Cleveland Browns franchise from Randy Lerner to Jimmy Haslam III closed, meaning that Sunday's game against the visiting San Diego Chargers will be the first "official" game of the Haslam Era. It will also be the first home game for Haslam as majority owner and newly appointed CEO Joe Banner, assuming he has returned to town in time for the game. Thursday was supposed to be Banner's first day on the job in Berea but reports surfaced that he was staying in Boston to tend to his father, who has fallen ill. There's no telling, as of this post, whether Banner will be in attendance for the game on Sunday, but obviously the health of his father comes first and my thoughts and prayers are with him during this time.
Whether Sunday is Banner's first chance to experience a game in Cleveland Browns Stadium or whether it is sometime down the road, rest assured, changes will be at the forefront of his mind. When he was introduced to the media last week, Banner laid out his plan for his first few weeks on the job. "My primary goal is getting to know the people here", he remarked. "I need to understand really quickly what it is about the game day experience that our fans like and don't like. That will then impact next year. If I don't have a good feel for what the experience is and what parts of it are good or bad, in the next probably four weeks, it starts to get late to put in a lot of those changes for next season. Some of those focuses are going to be kind of invisible to the outside world, at least for the time being. It's good in that we get a chance to kind of step back, and really make sure we're thorough about our thought process and the decisions we make about the long term."
When asked a follow-up question on just how he plans to go about getting input from the fans, Banner didn't dance around the question. "The first game I'm here for, we're going to have a bunch of people that work here that are basically going to pretend they're fans, and have different aspects of the experience. Someone's going to stand out in the parking lot. They're going to come in Monday and tell me, ‘Okay what was your experience like getting from the car to the building?' Somebody else is going to get in the concession line at half time and they're going to give me a report on Monday about what that was like. Somebody else is going to observe the score board experience, and I'll have my own experiences of that, but we'll probably have 20 people who work here who I'll send out to have various experiences acting to what are the fans experience actually here and then give me a report on that. Hopefully with all of that together, we'll get a pretty good picture quickly."
My first thought upon hearing this said was "Where do I sign up for THAT?" Again, it remains to be seen whether or not Banner will make it back for this game but it sounds like there's a very good chance there will be some reconnaissance taking place amongst the rank and file in attendance very soon. Also, I find it noteworthy how Banner stated he wants to get started on this right away, "in the next four weeks" as he put it, in order for whatever changes he deems necessary to the game day experience to be implemented in time for next season.
Make no mistake, Browns fans, the new men in charge of our beloved football team have a plan and it starts with us. Eat your heart out, Randy. "Our hope", said Banner, "is that someday not far down the road our fans feel like this is the most fan-friendly organization in professional sports." I could live with that.
Of course, nothing would be more fan-friendly than a win against the 3-3 Chargers in front of the home crowd on Sunday. If Banner wants to get to know the fans and the people of Cleveland real quick, he only needs to know one thing: We want a winner. It's that simple. We are starving for a winner. Personally, I couldn't care less about all the bells and whistles... the uniform changes and the naming rights... just start winning football games!
Banner and Haslam will both soon discover, if they haven't already, that Cleveland isn't about glitz and glamour. It's a tough, stubborn, hard-nosed Midwestern town and we want a tough, stubborn, hard-nosed football team that is ready to go out every Sunday and make opponents scared to play Cleveland. We are sick and tired of the name Cleveland being associated with a joke. We take great pride in our city and we want a football team that we can take pride in too. It's been a generation since Cleveland fans have felt that way about its first love, the Browns. If Banner and Haslam can put a plan in place that eventually leads to experiencing that again, then they will each deserve a statue erected in Public Square.
"Jimmy's leading a very long term vision of what he wants the franchise to be so we're not going to do a number of things either with the team or on the business side or on the experience to just kind of fill in the moment. We're going to lay the foundation for things that are going to get put in place, done right and then last a long time." Amen, Mr. Banner. Maybe someday in the not too distant future, we will look back at this as the turning point in the franchise we've all been waiting for. We can only hope.
For the time being, people are rightfully skeptical and afraid to be seduced by, using Banner‘s words, "the next promiser." Changes are inevitable and with that come fear and trepidation. We are tired of the unknown. We want to know that when we buy tickets and pay for parking and wait in long lines to see our favorite team that it's going to be worthwhile and rewarding. My hope is that my sons NEVER have to endure the period of futility for the Cleveland Browns that I and my father and millions of Browns fans across the globe have had to witness over the last 13 years.
Let this be the start of something new and exciting and memorable. "I know these fans have been through a lot of hopeful starts... We're just going to have to deliver," Banner exclaimed. It would go a long way toward their cause if the team they've inherited delivered a win on Sunday.