Art Modell was an American Jewish businessman, entrepreneur and important figurehead and owner in the National Football League (NFL).
Modell (born June 23, 1935; died September 6, 2012) was born to an Orthodox Jewish family in Brooklyn, New York. At the time of his birth, Art's father, Henry, was an electronics dealer who lost his fortune in the 1929 stock market crash. Due to the family’s misfortune during the Great Depression, Modell dropped out of high school to help as an electrician at a New York shipyard, earning just 45 cents an hour.
After returning from service overseas in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II, Modell enrolled in a television school and soon began his career in the fledgling American television industry. He began producing on the first regular daytime television programs but soon moved into advertising in 1954.
In 1960, at age 35, Modell was working at a Madison Avenue ad agency when he learned that the Cleveland Browns football franchise was for sale. He soon bought the team for $3.93 million – a cost he later called “totally excessive” – and moved to Cleveland, Ohio. “You get few chances like this,” Art said at the time. “To take advantage of the opportunity, you must have money and friends with more.”
As head of the NFL’s television committee for 31 years and a big advocate of starting “Monday Night Football,” Modell is credited for spearheading the work to partner the NFL with television networks.
In 1996, Model moved the Browns team to Baltimore, a decision that the city of Cleveland fought to block, and changed the teams name to the Ravens. Cleveland eventually settled for $12 million from Modell and the promise that he would allow a new NFL team to play in Cleveland under the Browns name and football records.
In the face of financial problems in 1999, Modell sold a minority interest in the Baltimore Ravens to Steve Biscotti. Five years later, Modell sold Biscotti the rest of the interests.
Modell’s philanthropic activities were an important part of his life, as well, some of which he did with his wife Patricia, who passed away in 2011. Modell was a strong backer of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, Maryland . He chaired a $100 million drive to build a cardiovascular building for the Johns Hopkins Heart Institute and, with Patricia, donated $3.5 million to modernize Baltimore’s opera house.
On September 6, 2012, Modell passed away from natural causes at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. He was 87 years old.
Sources: AP, “Art Modell, former Ravens owner who moved team from Cleveland, dies at 87,” Los Angeles Times, September 6, 2012.
“Art Modell, ex-owner of NFL’s Browns and Ravens, dies,” JTA, September 6, 2012.