A billionaire’s buy-in

Incoming Browns owner Jimmy Haslan III took center stage yesterday. The affable, self-assured presence of the truck stop magnate in itself signaled a culture change for the Browns.

I’m posting my takeaways here, not because many folks are reading this (the revival of a long-languid blog is no overnight blossom), but to get my initial impressions on the record. The new ownership promises a much different era of Browns football, so this post is a marker to compare the upcoming changes to my hopes and expectations.

Haslan is a polished presenter, keen to public perception, and he struck many of the right notes in appealing to Browns loyalists. He stressed winning as the sole goal, noted that things are headed in the right direction, evinced excitement about the chance to own an iconic franchise, and confessed he’s not yet an expert in all matters orange and brown. All comforting signs.

He also intends to be an active, visible, hands-on presence, even joking that current president Mike Holmgren might not like that so much. This, along with the deference and respect he showed Holmgren, also struck me as pitch-perfect. Had he seemed either more cagey or more brazen (e.g. “I can’t wait to put my stamp on this team”), I’d question whether his motives were well-aligned with the various stakeholders that combine for a successful organization.

I hope and expect that Haslan will have the patience, judgement and maturity to avoid sacrificing the Browns’ existing assets for the sake of molding the organization in his image. If so, I think he’ll find a gradual, graceful way to conclude the Holmgren era, and he’ll keep GM Tom Heckert on board, as his ability to build a team through several strong drafts is not easily replaced.

On the business and marketing side, Haslan has more experience, and changes here will probably come faster. I hope they include an aware sensitivity to the aspects of the Browns’ cultural identity that have maintained goodwill over these many trying years.

Already on day one, he’s announced that naming rights to Cleveland Browns Stadium will probably be sold, continuing an industry trend that sells out the honoring of civic and sporting institutions to the highest corporate bidder. I’m not a fan of this, but if proceeds are dedicated to stadium maintenance and repair, taking some of the burden off of taxpayers, it may be worthwhile.

Beyond that, I hope Haslan’s growing appreciation of the connection between the Browns and its fan base includes this fundamental truth: our marketing niche and brand identity is not to be found in glitz and shiny new designs. The Browns are plain and simple, traditional and unadorned. For good reason. It strikes at the heart of our regional identity. Real. Genuine. Not distracted from the authentic work we do by the pursuit of appearances.

We honor a glorious past when we wear its trappings into the future. I want the uniforms, logos, colors and such to remain old-school without being dated. To remain essentially the same without seeming superficially “retro.” There’s no room for anything on our uniquely unembellished helmets.

Our team isn’t named after some animal or archetype. It honors a single man, the ultimate organizational innovator, who brought this team to prominence and dominance not with style and sizzle, but with strategy and skill. Dogged, determined effort, working together through ceaseless challenge, speaks more to our methods of aspiration — and how we recognize ourselves in the Browns — than any rebranding expert ever will.

So far, I like Jimmy. When he proves that he gets this about us, I’ll love his Browns even more.