American football is becoming popular on Copacabana Beach. You can drink caipirinhas and watch the game as it was played a century ago when Knute Rockne and Gus Dorais perfected the forward pass on the sand at Cedar Point, Ohio, half way between Notre Dame's Golden Dome and Cleveland Browns Stadium.
But all is not well for the once mighty Browns. At expatriate hangouts like The Balcony and the Mud Bug, sports tickers are reporting that Brady Quinn, the former Fighting Irish star who put his multi-million dollar home on the market after being benched, will quarterback the team Sunday in spite of a 23.5 quarterback rating against the Ravens Monday night. New general manager George Kokinis was fired over the bye-week and new director of football operations Erin O'Brien is gone. New head coach Eric Mangini, picked up after being fired by the Jets for messing with Brett Favre's mojo, may finish out the year. Running back Jamal Lewis, who plans to retire at the end of this season, told ESPN that Mangini has been working the team too hard and that players are not comfortable with his disciplinarian style.
Sports media buzz has focused on Mike Holmgren, who won a Super Bowl with the NFC Green Bay Packers. Harley-riding Holmgren was unable to work his magic on the Seattle Seahawks, though and it has been said he prefers front office to walking the sidelines. Some pundits are even suggesting that former Steelers coach Bill Cowher, who started his career as a Brown, might once again be offered the job.
As an expansion franchise Cleveland has a horrific record of 55-124 over the past decade and sits in the basement of the AFC North with just one win.
Owner Randy Lerner, whose father Alfred bought the expansion franchise after helping his friend Art Modell move the original Browns to Baltimore, says he is "sick" about the situation. But in spite of the poor performance that sparked the team's fifth front office shakeup the Browns franchise is worth nearly twice as much as it was a decade ago. Much of that value was created by NFL revenue sharing linked to a lucrative TV deal, and licensed products.
Sparring over revenue sharing and negotiating a new contract with the players union has already started. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has fined Cowboys owner Jerry Jones $100,000 for criticizing the league revenue sharing agreement. The NFLPA is recommending that players save 50% of their salaries in preparation for a lockout in 2011. And the league office investigated Mangini for running voluntary practice sessions that were on the cusp of violating NFL and players' union policies.
Building a winning team becomes risky business when the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement is up for grabs. Sale of Super Bowl advertising has been slow and Madison Avenue is hurting. While economic data suggests the U.S. economy is starting to grow out of recession it doesn't make good business sense for owners with underperforming franchises like Randy Lerner to make major investments to upgrade talent until new agreements are in place. Meanwhile, Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) has called for Congress to eliminate the Anti-Trust exemption granted to the NFL that enables the lucrative revenue deals.
The sports world socialism of NFL revenue sharing that enables a team to put a bad product on the field and still show a decent bottom line doesn't exist in Brazilian futebol. When pressed for cash top clubs like Corinthians (president Lula's favorite) sell star players to clubs in Europe. Teams who stink up the joint get relegated to the second division and have to work their way back up. Team branded merchandise is sold with the logos of major team sponsors like Toshiba, Fiat and Petrobras. Ownership of many teams is community-based, like the Green Bay Packers model that the NFL now longer allows.
The big losers in this gridiron meltdown aren't the owners, or the corporations who write off big sponsorship. It's the fans, working Americans who run the risk of overextending themselves in an uncertain economy to pay between $2000 and $21,000 for Browns public seat licenses that give them the privilege of paying even more to buy season tickets.
Bad karma doubled down on Cleveland's football fortunes when owner Art Modell moved the original Browns to Baltimore at the end of the 1995 season. NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue wanted the expansion franchise to be awarded to Los Angeles, where the departure of the Raiders back to Oakland created a market that could generate far more revenue sharing dollars than Cleveland. But LA couldn't come up with the right package and Al Lerner had dough ready to go. The league gave the expansion Browns a shorter timetable to build a quality front office and coaching staff than other expansion teams and the organization has never recovered from that.
Ironically, for all the Browns are doing wrong, the team is worth more than the Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers, according to Forbes Magazine's 2009 NFL Valuations. Hall of fame coach Buck Shaw was right when he said winning isn't everything ... but that was before revenue sharing too.