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For Modell to Lose Money, He Had to Flunk Economics : Pro football: Some can’t believe the Browns’ owner has lost $21 million the last two seasons in Cleveland.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It’s a tough task to select the most outrageous moment in the NFL this season.

There are so many candidates, but after eliminating Isaac Bruce’s overnight rise to glory for the Rams and the Cowboys’ $35-million payoff to Deion Sanders not to cover Jerry Rice, the finalists are:

A) Expansion Carolina beats the Super Bowl champion 49ers in San Francisco.

B) With only six games remaining in the season, the Kansas City Chiefs--minus Joe Montana-- have the league’s best record.

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C) Brown owner Art Modell, after announcing his team’s move to Baltimore, says his team lost $21 million over the past two seasons in Cleveland.

The answer:

C

Hands down. The man did not laugh, did not even crack a grin. With all of America listening, Art Modell said he had no choice but to move his team.

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“Does anybody really believe that?” said Robert A. Baade, chairman of the Lake Forest College economics department. “If so, then open the books and let us take a look.

“If Art Modell is losing money on an 80,000-seat stadium that sells out for every single game and has for a long time . . . if his payroll is not up there among the highest in the NFL . . . if Art Modell receives the benefit of a very substantial NFL TV contract . . . if Art Modell is losing money, he must be one of the worst managers of all time.”

How does any NFL team lose money?

This year each team will receive almost $40 million in TV money and $3 million to $6 million from NFL Properties and other NFL related businesses. A year ago each team received a $10-million bonus because of expansion.

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The Browns, who averaged 70,000 fans a game, receive almost 67% of each ticket price--with tickets averaging $32.61. They receive almost 33% of each ticket price for games they play on the road. The revenue from 108 luxury boxes goes to the Browns--almost $6 million.

Local radio and TV rights to their preseason games account for an estimated $3 million. The Browns also cash in on parking, concessions and advertising within the stadium--an estimated $3 million.

Next to Dallas, the Cleveland Browns had the second-highest TV ratings in their local market last year. The Browns have had the fourth-highest average attendance during the ‘90s, and according to “Financial World,” they were eighth highest in gross revenues in the NFL and operated with a profit of $6 million last year.

“Twenty-one million dollars--it doesn’t seem likely to me,” said Charles Euchner, a political science teacher at Holy Cross College. “What guys often do is play with fake numbers. It’s like Paul Beeston, president of the Toronto Blue Jays once said: ‘Any good accountant can take a nice operating profit and turn it into a deficit by playing with the books.’ I suspect a lot of that in the Browns’ claims.”

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The mismanaged Rams projected a $6 million loss in Anaheim, although a league audit indicated the team had a $9 million profit. No matter, the Rams moved to St. Louis, and based on projections, they will make more money next year than any other team in the league. The Raiders ran for guaranteed money in Oakland. The Oilers are embracing the state of Tennessee, while leaving one of the seven wonders of the world behind. The Bears are talking to Gary, Ind. The Bucs will be courting Orlando, and if spurned, will turn their gaze to L.A., which is already being used as leverage in Seattle.

“Under current circumstances, it will keep happening,” Euchner said. “The league has a virtual monopoly, and in order to control the supply (franchises), more and more local governments will be encouraged to get involved in the bidding. It used to be that the only suitors considered were the inner city areas of real big cities, but anybody close to an interstate with major media in the area can potentially be a big-league sports city.”

Five years ago, as part of his graduate work at Johns Hopkins University, Euchner studied professional sports and then assembled his work into the 1993 book: “Playing The Field: Why Sports Teams Move and Cities Fight To Keep Them.”

If only Euchner had bought stock in a moving van company: He foresaw NFL movement in Los Angeles before it became a daily headline and predicted a time of upheaval throughout the league.

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“The structure of the NFL drives this process; teams share so much revenue--in order to gain any kind of advantage over their rivals they look for money they don’t have to share,” Euchner said. “It began with the first sky boxes in Texas Stadium in 1965 and now new stadiums provide the loophole in their little socialist Utopia.

“But there is something different about Cleveland. There’s something about a team that draws 70,000 fans a year, a team that has been a real cornerstone in the whole enterprise just picking up and moving in such a bridge burning way. I’m not surprised by much of the movement going on, but this one felt like a kick in the gut.”

But then Art Modell had no choice.

ON TV

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* SOME ONE WILL WATCH

Pittsburgh (6-4) at Cincinnati (4-6) Channel 4, 10 a.m.: The Bengals feature quarterback Jeff Blake, who has thrown a touchdown pass in every game this season. So much for that streak--now the Bengals play NFL’s No. 2 defense against the pass.

Chalk it up: Pittsburgh quarterback Neil O’Donnell is 7-1 versus Cincinnati.

* BOND . . . JAMES BOND

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St. Louis (6-4) at Atlanta (6-4) Channel 11, 10 a.m.: Either James Bond is behind the scenes calling the shots for these teams or someone has made a pact with the devil. The winner will be 7-4 and cruising toward the playoffs.

Grounded in success: The Falcons are 6-1 when club rushes 20 or more times.

* SUPER BOWL?

Dallas (8-2) at Oakland (8-2) Channel 11, 1 p.m.: San Francisco and Kansas City might present stronger cases at a later date, but this looks like this year’s Super Bowl matchup in Phoenix. Dallas is 63-26 in the ‘90s with Troy Aikman as its starting quarterback. Jeff Hostetler is 26-14 as the Raiders’ starting quarterback.

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Good sign: The NFC has dominated the Super Bowl, but the Raiders will go 4-0 against the NFC--for the first time since 1979--if they beat the Cowboys.

* NASHVILLE OPENER

Houston (4-6) at Kansas City (9-1) ESPN, 5 p.m.: The Oilers have signed papers to move to Nashville; do they now make like the Browns and collapse on the field? The Chiefs’ defense has limited opposition in the last three games to seven points or less.

More records: Kansas City running back Marcus Allen needs 44 receiving yards to become the first player in NFL history with 10,000 rushing yards and 5,000 receiving yards.

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NO SHOW CLASSIC

Green Bay (6-4) at Cleveland (4-6): Eric Zeier remains the Browns’ starting quarterback, but who will be there to watch him play? An estimated 50,000 fans are expected to be labeled no-shows.

Killer instinct: The Packers have scored a touchdown 59.5% of the time once they have moved inside their opponents’ 20-yard line.

PARITY SHOWDOWN

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San Diego (4-6) at Denver (5-5): The Chargers have fallen apart and will be without running back Natrone Means (groin) again. Their only hope is the medical hold on Denver quarterback John Elway, who is recovering from a concussion and shoulder injury.

Pressure on Elway: The Chargers’ defense has allowed only four 100-yard rushers in the last 63 games.

New Orleans (4-6) at Minnesota (5-5): The Saints have won three in a row, four of their last five, and after allowing an average of 160 yards a game on the ground, they are no surrendering 82 in their last five contests.

The edge: Viking kicker Fuad Reveiz has made 39 of his last 40 field-goal attempts from 45 yards or less.

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Indianapolis (5-5) at New England (4-6): The Patriots go as rookie running back Curtis Martin goes. New England is 4-0 in games in which Martin tops 100 yards. OK, so the Colts rank No. 4 in the league in stopping the run and have not permitted a 100-yard rusher in 23 consecutive games.

Hanging tough: Eleven of the Colts’ last 12 games have been decided by seven points or less.

Detroit (4-6) at Chicago (6-4): One of the top NFL stories of the year continues to be Bear quarterback Erik Kramer, who leads the league with 23 touchdown passes. Detroit’s defense ranks No. 27 in trying to stop the pass.

Bet on it: Detroit running back Barry Sanders needs 27 yards to top the 1,000-yard mark for the seventh time in his seven seasons in the league. Eric Dickerson was the only other player in NFL history to do that.

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JUST NOT FAIR

Arizona (3-7) at Carolina (4-6): The Cardinals can’t catch a break; now they have to take on the mighty Panthers. Hey, everybody the Cardinals play this year is mighty. The Panthers have won two in a row at home.

Reputation buster: The Panthers’ defense ranks better than Buddy Ryan’s defense in 14 of the 16 categories listed by the league each week.

Buffalo (7-3) at N.Y. Jets (2-8): Both expansion teams have won more games than the Jets, who try to regroup with Boomer Esiason returning as starting quarterback. Bad news for Boomer, who just recovered from concussion: Buffalo defensive end Bruce Smith has 24 1/2 sacks against the Jets.

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Quiz time: Name the wide receiver who leads all rookies in catches this season? Wayne Chrebet with 41.

THE DAILY DUDS

Jacksonville (3-7) at Tampa Bay (5-5): If the Jaguars don’t score first, history says they lose. Jacksonville is 3-0 in games in which they score first. Tampa counters with Trent Dilfer and Casey Weldon at quarterback, which gives the Jaguars every chance to light up the scoreboard first.

Thrilling stats: Tampa ranks No. 28 on offense, while Jacksonville stands No. 29.

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N.Y. Giants (3-7) at Philadelphia (6-4): Little known fact--the Eagles have won five of their last six games, and Randall Cunningham continues to sit on the bench.

Dubious streak: The Giants continue to lose, but good news: quarterback Dave Brown has not been intercepted in the last four games.

BUMMER

Seattle (4-6) at Washington (3-7): The Seahawks have scored 74 points in their previous two games and the Redskins are allowing an average of 24 points. So Washington wins, 25-24, because the Seahawks are allowing an average of 25 points.

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No sweat: Seattle running back Chris Warren, who has topped the 100-yard mark 18 times, has run for more than 100 in two encounters with the Redskins.


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