Art Modell helped pioneer big TV deals for NFL


Art Modell, who died on Thursday, will be best remembered (angrily by many) as the man who moved the NFL’s Cleveland Browns to Baltimore, where they became the Ravens.

But Modell, who owned the Browns and Ravens for more than four decades, also played a key role in making the National Football League a television powerhouse.

Prior to buying the Browns in 1961, Modell had worked in television. NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle tapped Modell to oversee the league’s broadcast committee, which basically made him the point person in negotiations with the TV networks.


In wasn’t long after that the price tag for football started to go up. CBS made the first big NFL deal, buying the rights for just over $14 million a season. As the sport grew in popularity, so did the license fees, and it wasn’t long before the league started selling to multiple networks, which drove the cost higher. The last deal Modell oversaw was the 1990 package for a then-record $3.6 billion.

Rights fees for the NFL have continued to soar, and the league is expected to take in $6 billion from television this season.

Interestingly, in recent years Modell was worried that the price tag was getting too high and that there would be negative implications for both the league and the fans.

“I think the NFL as a league should be very concerned about the costs of carrying their games getting almost obscene,” Modell told the Los Angeles Times in 2011. Modell feared a backlash against the league if it was seen as gouging the networks.

Modell knew his fears about the increase in TV rights wouldn’t play well with today’s owners.

“They’d run me out of the room,” he cracked.

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Follow Joe Flint on Twitter @JBFlint.


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