(Reuters) - Art Modell, the former owner of the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens who helped lead professional football’s lucrative growth into television, has died at age 87, his family said on Thursday.
First as the owner of the Cleveland Browns and then the Ravens, Modell played an integral role in the development of the National Football League. Modell’s reputation was hurt by his controversial decision to relocate the Browns to Baltimore in 1996.
Modell, a businessman and an influential NFL figure for more than 40 years, died early on Thursday at Johns Hopkins Hospital, his son, David Modell, said in a statement.
“Sadly, I can confirm that my father died peacefully of natural causes,” he said.
A former television producer and advertising executive, Art Modell helped launch Monday Night Football, served as the league’s only elected president from 1967 to 1969 and negotiated the NFL’s first collective bargaining agreement with players.
Modell emerged as an active and vocal owner after he bought the Cleveland Browns in 1961 for just under $4 million, an unprecedented amount at the time. Three years later, the team won the NFL championship, led by legendary running back Jim Brown.
After growing frustrated with what he called an inadequate stadium in Cleveland, Modell eventually relocated the Browns to Baltimore and renamed the team, angering many Cleveland fans and casting a shadow over his reputation as one of the league’s most innovative owners.
Modell said he was lured in part by the state of Maryland’s offer to spend $200 million to build a new stadium. The NFL approved the move and also agreed to put a new team in Cleveland for the 1999 season. The Ravens went on to win the Super Bowl in 2000.
Modell called the relocation decision a difficult one and argued that he did not leave Cleveland fans empty-handed by choosing to leave the Browns’ name and colors for the new team in Cleveland to maintain.
“That didn’t happen in Baltimore with the Colts, in Brooklyn with the Dodgers, or in other cities that lost sports teams,” he said.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, Modell dropped out of high school at 15 and took a job as an electrician’s helper, cleaning hulls of ships in a Brooklyn shipyard after the death of his father.
Three years later, he joined the military and after World War II enrolled in a New York City television school. He later produced one of the first regular daytime television shows, called “Market Melodies,” before moving into the advertising business.
Modell is survived by his sons, John and David, and six grandchildren.
Reporting by Kevin Gray; Editing by Will Dunham