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Bill Cosby Bids For New NFL Team

Cablevision Chairman Charles Dolan and his brother Larry have teamed up with renowned entertainer Bill Cosby to make a bid for the new Cleveland Browns NFL franchise, scheduled to begin play in fall 1999.

Charles Dolan said he will put up 30 percent of the money for the franchise and maintain 51 percent ownership of the team if the bid is successful. Larry Dolan will put up 30 percent, 30 percent will come from Dolan family trusts, 5 percent from Cosby, and 5 percent will be reserved for "strategic investors."

The new Browns franchise is expected to fetch anywhere from $350 million to $1 billion.

When asked how much would be too much to pay for the team, Charles Dolan said only that the Dolan bid will reflect "fair value."

The NFL prohibits corporations from owning teams, so Cablevision wouldn't be involved in the deal officially. The Dolans, who are originally from Cleveland, said they only want to "put a winning football team on the field," and that there are few other benefits to owning the franchise.

Analysts say the Dolans never get into an investment unless they can get a 20-25 percent return, so while Cablevision isn't officially buying the Browns, the company will realize certain benefits.

Cablevision owns the cable franchise in the Northeast Ohio region, and it also has partial ownership of Fox Sports Ohio through its joint venture agreement with Liberty Media and News Corp.'s Fox Sports.

At a news conference, Charles Dolan said that new team will be covered "like never before" on Fox Sports Ohio, and that Cablevision will leap at the chance to carry high-definition digital telecasts of the games to its subscribers, provided that broadcasters go ahead with their plans to offer digital programming later this year.

Like other Midwest-based teams with die-hard fans, the Browns have a significant number of transplanted supporters who live far outside the Cleveland area. For a number of years, the NFL has toyed with the idea of offering every NFL game in every market via pay-per-view, a development that would have positive implications for Cablevision.

Certainly the Dolans' acquisition, perhaps not coincidentally, fits perfectly with Cablevision's strategy of being both a cable service and content provider. In addition to its Fox/Liberty venture, the company owns Madison Square Garden LP, which includes the famed arena complex, the New York Knicks basketball and New York Rangers hockey teams and the MSG cable network.

Cablevision also owns Rainbow Media Holdings, which includes the movie and entertainment channels Bravo, American Movie Classics, Independent Film Channel, Much Music, Romance Classics and ExtraHelp.

The original Browns franchise, which began NFL play in 1950, was moved to Baltimore prior to the 1996 season. That team was renamed the Baltimore Ravens.

The city of Cleveland retained the rights to Browns' records and team colors, which will be transferred tthe new franchise.

Written By David B. Wilkerson

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