On August 2, 2012, Jimmy and Dee Haslam became the newest owners of the Cleveland Browns.
Since taking over the franchise, the couple have been lauded for their community work but also scorned for apparent incompetence in building the Browns into contenders.
Jimmy Haslam has made a lion’s share of the headlines since 2012, especially concerning the FBI’s investigation into the Pilot Flying J enterprise (of which he was the CEO) in 2013.
FBI and IRS raid billionaire Jimmy Haslam’s Pilot Flying J http://t.co/nC216aoFJQ
— Forbes (@Forbes) April 17, 2013
Of course, for many married couples that own sports teams, their fans typically only hear from one of the spouses.
Specifically, the male-dominated aspect of sports in America lends to the stereotype of male owners making all the major decisions regarding a franchise.
However, in the case of the Haslam’s, Mr.Haslam’s wife, Dee, has frequently chimed in with her own opinions in team building.
Given her education, experience, and clout in business, she has proven that she can more than hold her own against her male counterparts.
The following is a closer look into Browns co-owner Dee Haslam.
Early Life in Long Island and Tennessee
Susan “Dee” Bagwell was born in Knoxville, Tennessee in 1954.
Her father, Ross Bagwell, is considered a pioneer in the cable television industry.
Here’s your chance to hear the great story of television pioneer Ross K. Bagwell, Sr. Pellissippi State is proud to have a building named in his honor. Tonight at 8:00 p.m. on PBS. Don’t miss it! pic.twitter.com/Szf5DTyNTF
— PSCC Foundation (@psccfoundation) September 4, 2018
Dee spent her formative years in Long Island while her father worked for NBC.
While she was still in elementary school, the Bagwell family moved back to Knoxville.
In high school, Dee went to the Webb School where she happened to be classmates with a young man named Jimmy Haslam.
When she was 17, Dee started working for her father at Bagwell Advertising where she spent her hours answering the telephone.
After graduating from high school, she attended the University of Tennessee where she majored in Education and minored in Art.
In 1976, Dee and Jimmy Haslam reconnected and began dating.
They were married on December 11 of that same year.
Getting into the Family Business
It didn’t take the newly married Dee Haslam long to get into her father’s line of work.
After graduating from UT, Haslam began her professional career in advertising then pivoted to production at Cinetel Productions, her father’s company.
The company was sold to Scripps Howard in 1994 and Haslam partnered with her brother and father to form Bagwell Entertainment/Ross Television Productions.
In 1998, Haslam and her partner, Rob Lundgren, acquired Ross Television Productions and launched RIVR Media.
Haslam’s work at RIVR is evidence of her eye for detail and knowledge of the industry.
The many accomplishments during her time at the company include: Numerous Emmy nominations for the series “Whale Wars” and “Trading Spaces,” a Parents’ Choice Award for Moving Picture Books, a Television Academy Honors Award, and The New York Festivals World Medal.
She has also been an executive producer for the series “World Series of Poker,” “Renovation Realities,” “Fat Guys in the Woods,” and “Escaping Polygamy.”
In 2012, Haslam founded Nest Features, an independent film company that produces films in and about the American South.
The Haslams’ Get Into Professional Sports
In 2008, the Haslams decided to throw their hat into the professional sports ring and bought a minority interest stake in the Pittsburgh Steelers.
As minority owners, the Haslams did not have much input in day-to-day operations.
That changed in 2012 when the couple agreed with former Browns owner Randy Lerner to buy the team for $1 billion.
After shedding their interest in the Steelers, the Haslams were the proud owners of an NFL franchise.
In 2018, Dee Haslam stepped down from her role as CEO at RIVR to take on a larger role with the Browns.
Browns owner Dee Haslam steps down as media company CEO: CLEVELAND (AP) Browns owner Dee Haslam is stepping down as the CEO of her media company to focus more on the #NFL franchise and community work in Cleveland. https://t.co/PsIZssKb2C pic.twitter.com/YNADPTQz3N
— News by Amanda (@amandasome) April 17, 2018
Along with her position as team co-owner, she is also the chairperson for Haslam Sports Group.
In addition to their shared ownership of the Browns, in early 2019 the couple bought a controlling interest in the Columbus Crew, and MLS team.
— Crain’s Cleveland (@CrainsCleveland) January 2, 2019
The Haslams became interested in the organization when they learned the team was most likely headed out of state.
After meeting with other members of the Crew ownership group, the Haslams bought in, with the purpose of keeping the team in Ohio.
“It’s a community asset that needs to be treasured because it does more than just unify,” Dee Haslam said at the time. “There are just so many things about sports that are vibrant to a community.”
Of course, being owners of a professional sports franchise, especially the Browns, hasn’t been easy.
Since taking over as owners of the team, the Browns have a 33-94-1 record.
The Browns have also gone through numerous general managers and head coaches since 2012.
Andrew Berry is the organization’s sixth GM since the Haslams took over.
New head coach Kevin Stefanski is the seventh HC in the Haslam era.
Browns’ head coaches under the Haslams:
🏈2019 Freddie Kitchens
🏈2018 Gregg Williams
🏈2016-18 Hue Jackson
🏈2014-15 Mike Pettine
🏈2013 Rob Chudzinski
🏈2012 Pat Shurmur (Shurmur was HC in 2011 before Haslams bought the Browns).
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) December 30, 2019
It goes without saying that owning a professional sports franchise is not quite the same thing as running a business in another field.
“Without a doubt, the emotional component and reaction of hundreds of thousands of fans paying attention to the majority of our decisions is the biggest difference,” said Dee Haslam earlier this year. “That is one of the beautiful things about sports, but your decisions are made under a microscope that you don’t have in private corporations.”
Despite the poor record and high staff turnover, the Haslams haven’t exactly been absentee owners.
According to their profile on the Browns official website, between 2014-2015, the Haslams and the city of Cleveland pitched in to invest $125 million to upgrade and modernize both the interior and exterior of the Browns FirstEnergy Stadium.
In 2016, the Haslams and the city of Berea used $15 million to upgrade the team’s training facility.
Additionally, both Haslams have also been praised for their role in diversity awareness.
In 2015, the couple received the Tank Younger Award from the Fritz Pollard Alliance for having assembled one of the most diverse front offices in sports.
The Haslams to receive Tank Younger Award for promoting diversity. http://t.co/SCBsOZMyC9
Haslams’ Community Interest
Probably the most significant area where the Haslams connect with Cleveland is in their philanthropic efforts to give back to the city.
Dee Haslam sits on the boards of numerous organizations including: the Greater Cleveland Partnership, The United Way of Greater Cleveland, University Hospitals Systems, the Cleveland Orchestra, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Haslam also sits on the board of directors for ExcelinEd, an organization that focuses on empowering children and families with choices.
Additional work in the academic arena for Dee Haslam includes co-founding the Haslam Scholars Program which provides in depth academic enrichment for top students at the University of Tennessee.
In 2020, the Haslams will watch as a new coaching staff and several new player acquisitions take the field for the Browns.
Despite all their good deeds in the city of Cleveland, and the state of Ohio, Browns fans are more than ready to return to playoff football.
For her part, Dee Haslam knows that sports are crucial to a community’s identity and livelihood.“Sports are the great unifier no matter what your political beliefs, your faith, your lifestyle,” Haslam said after the Columbus Crew acquisition. “A team can unite you.”