I cannot comprehend why anyone would want to be a professional sports team owner in Cleveland unless they are confident in exactly how to be an owner in Cleveland. Whether or not new Cleveland Browns' owner Jimmy Haslam will be embraced by the city will depend solely on his ability to connect with the fans.
Haslam joins the Cleveland trio of owners as the man in charge of Cleveland's favorite franchise. Cleveland is undoubtedly a football town. Now he must compete with Cleveland Cavaliers' owner Dan Gilbert as the city's most beloved. The Cleveland Indians' Larry Dolan ranks about as high in popularity with Clevelanders as a Sarah Palin speech at the Democratic National Convention. An absent and apathetic Randy Lerner still fared better than the Dolan in terms of fan support.
Thus far Haslam has done nothing to cause fan backlash including the "mistake" of being a minority owner of the archrival Pittsburgh Steelers. He made the promise that there is "zero chance" he will move the Browns out of Cleveland and promised he is dedicated to bring "winning back to Cleveland."
''Our style is we are going to be involved. We are open and transparent. We are used to being in the public eye,'' Haslam said. ''We're going to be out there selling the Browns all the time.''
This should be a welcome change for Browns' fans that grew accustomed to an apathetic owner. While Lerner was willing to open his pocketbook when needed, he often placed too much trust in others to run the team, with that trust being misguided to people who simply were incapable of doing the job. Current team president Mike Holmgren has been the closest to a competent executive, however his overall desire to build a winning team has been called into question by the fan base.
If Haslam wants to be a hero in Cleveland he will need to take notes from Dan Gilbert. Whether you love him or hate Gilbert, he has Cleveland ownership down. He is an intelligent businessman who also understands you also need to connect with the fans and the community. A prime example of this is regards his infamous letter when LeBron James left town. Whether he meant the words he wrote or not, it was proof to fans that he was passionate about the team. Also he is often interacting with fans on Twitter and various other elements of social media proving he is an owner who "gets it."
Haslam will be wise to follow Gilbert's lead and then sit back and watch the city of Cleveland fall in love with him.
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