Ravens majority owner Art Modell has agreed to a $3 million settlement in aclass-action lawsuit brought by Cleveland Browns fans angry about the team's1995 move to Baltimore, lawyers in the case said yesterday.
Under a preliminary settlement approved yesterday by a judge in CuyahogaCounty, Ohio, the holders of 40,000 Browns season tickets would be eligiblefor $50 per seat and would be given the choice of taking cash or donating theproceeds to charity.
The NFL is to pay a portion of the settlement, but the amount would dependin part on how many of the season-ticket holders choose to donate their awardsto a fund supporting youth football and recreation programs, an attorney forModell said.
An NFL spokesman last night declined to comment on the league's portion,saying the extent of the NFL's commitment has not been finalized.
The Ravens' ownership would pay about $1 million in legal fees andexpenses, lawyers in the case said.
The settlement, which could receive final approval at another hearing nextmonth, would end Modell's only remaining legal entanglement from his decisionto move the storied Browns franchise to Baltimore.
Modell, in a written statement, called the settlement "an appropriate endto this odyssey."
"This settlement benefits the fans who supported football and the youth whoare its future," the statement said.
Modell could not be reached to elaborate because he was out of town, hisoffice said. Ravens spokesman Kevin Byrne said that Modell met last week withleague commissioner Paul Tabliabue at the NFL owners' meetings in Palm Desert,Calif., to discuss the league's participation in the settlement.
The settlement would avert a trial in a suit filed in November 1995,shortly after Modell announced his intention to move the team. Brownsseason-ticket holder Howard Beder charged the team with violating Ohio'sconsumer protection laws and with breach of contract, alleging, for instance,that Modell broke promises to keep the team in Cleveland.
That suit was merged with another that cited the Browns' poor play in thewake of the announcement and charged the team with breaching its contractualobligation to provide NFL-quality football. All but one of the allegationswere dismissed as the case moved between pre-trial rulings and appellatereviews over the past several years.
In the remaining unresolved issue, the season-ticket holders charged that,by moving, Modell breached their contractual right to renew their tickets forthe next year.
In the end, the case was more of a statement about sports fans' rights aspaying customers than it was about Cleveland's lingering anger toward Modell,said plaintiffs' lawyer Joshua R. Cohen.
"The case signifies that sports fans and those who patronize sports teamsare consumers, and they need to be treated the way other consumers aretreated. That's an important proposition given the amount of money that isspent on sports and the concessions communities are making to sports teams,"Cohen said.
He said Beder, from the start, had insisted that ticket holders be offeredthe chance to contribute the money to charity. The donations would go to afund to benefit youth programs in northeast Ohio. The fund would beadministered by a board composed of Cleveland civic leaders and former Browns.