Baltimore Ravens owner Art Modell said yesterday that he has no intention of getting out of the football business, even though he has agreed to sell a minority 49 percent interest in the team to Anne Arundel County businessman Stephen J. Bisciotti for $275 million. Bisciotti has an option to buy the rest of the franchise no sooner than 2004 for another $325 million.
"If I wanted to get out, I'd have made the whole deal right now," Modell said in an interview yesterday, a day after the team announced the potential $600 million transaction on Sunday without mentioning the option to sell the entire team. "No, I do not want to get out. I want to stay in it for my sons. But I'll be 79 when the due date comes [for the option]. Maybe I'll go play halfback."
Modell has been seeking a minority partner since July in order to help pay off about $185 million in loans. Bisciotti, 39, a Baltimore Colts fan as a child, has a net worth of about $1 billion from the employment services business he founded. He became interested last month in doing a deal, but only if he could get an option to buy the team at a certain point.
Modell said he initially wanted to make it a five-year option and Bisciotti wanted three years. They compromised on four, and Modell said yesterday he also could keep majority control of the team by buying back the option. Bisciotti can exercise the option any time between 2004 and 2006.
"It's a two-step transaction," Modell said, "and a lot can happen between now and when the option comes due. If he exercises the option, and there is no certainty that he will, it will be another $325 million. At that point, we'll have become fast friends, and I'd be willing to buy back the option.
"There are a lot of people who are happy with a minority interest. He's got a billion-dollar business that keeps him very busy. I don't know if he wants the irritation of owning it--all the criticism, the citizen apathy, the columnists, everything that goes with it."
Bisciotti told the Baltimore Sun in yesterday's editions that he fully intends to exercise the option to buy out Modell. He was unavailable to comment yesterday, but John Moag, his attorney in the deal, said his client did not invest this kind of money without intending to complete the transaction to become majority owner at the proper time.
"You don't buy this team the way he bought it without staying with the drill," Moag said in an interview yesterday. "I expect the partners four years from now will act accordingly. Things can always change, but I don't think so in this case.
"This was a very emotional thing [for Modell]. But in a lot of respects, it was easier than most [deals] because these two guys hit it off so well.
"It makes incredible sense. He [Bisciotti] wants to learn the industry. He'll be an extremely quiet owner. He's already said he wants to be the least-known owner in the NFL. He believes in Art's football abilities, and wants to just sit tight and learn as much as he can."
NFL sources said Modell was asked to find a minority partner last July when he sought financial help from fellow owners. The sources said he never was forced to sell the team.
At the very least, NFL owners must approve the deal, a process that likely will not be completed at least until next spring. The league office and the owner's finance committee will do the initial work, then make a recommendation to the full body of owners, with a three-fourths majority of 31 teams necessary for approval.
Bisciotti visited the team's practice facility about 10 days ago and, according to a source, told Modell and his son David, the team president, that he was prepared to make them an offer they would not be able to turn down. The sides began negotiating at 7:30 a.m. Friday and concluded the agreement about 12 hours later.
Even if Bisciotti exercises his option to buy the remainder of the team, sources indicated that Art Modell and David Modell likely will remain associated with the franchise.
Under the agreement, Art Modell would be chairman emeritus of the franchise. David would remain team president for at least two years after Bisciotti assumed majority control. Modell's other son, John, is in the music business in California and is believed to have no interest in working in football.
According to the agreement, the Modell family will continue to have day-to-day control of the franchise, with Bisciotti having a voice in all major decisions. Bisciotti's financing will be provided by the Bank of America.
The purchase price of $600 million is well below the record $800 million Bethesda businessman Daniel M. Snyder paid for the Washington Redskins and their stadium--recently re-named FedEx Field--from the estate of Jack Kent Cooke this past spring.
The New York Jets also are expected to be sold by the end of the year, with estimates of about $600 million for the sale of a team that, like the Ravens, does not include a stadium in the price.
In October, the NFL awarded an expansion franchise to Houston businessman Robert McNair for $700 million. League owners have said they expect teams to sell for more than $1 billion in the next few years, meaning Bisciotti could be getting in for a relatively low price.
As for Bisciotti's immediate impact on the franchise, Coach Brian Billick said the extra capital could allow the team more flexibility to sign free agents and become more competitive.
Billick had a brief conversation with Bisciotti last week during a visit to practice.
"It will allow us to do some things structurally that will allow us more latitude than we had before," Billick said. "I don't want to make too much of it. I thought we were before, and even more so now . . . an attractive place [to play]. . . . This is a team on the rise."
Billick said he believed Art and David Modell were "very excited" about having Bisciotti join the franchise.
"They're very upbeat and see the positive side of this," Billick said. "I don't know that we should make too much--I'm not going to--about what's going to happen four years from now, what the Modell situation is going to be.
"I work for Art and David Modell right now and I'm pleased to do so. It's one of the main reasons I'm here. The way we understand it, Art's still in control of the team the next four years. Now we're out of debt. It's all positive right now."
Special correspondent Kathy Orton contributed to this report.