Bisciotti excited about football, not fame

OWINGS MILLS -- The apprenticeship of Steve Bisciotti and his relative anonymity are about to end.<br><br> After four years of learning under venerable NFL power broker Art Modell, Bisciotti is set to assume majority control of the Baltimore Ravens later this week.<br>

Bisciotti, 43, will become the second-youngest owner in the league by completing a $600 million purchase initially struck in 1999 by buying the remaining half of Modell's ownership for $325 million. Modell will retain a 1-percent shareholder interest and will have an office next to Bisciotti's in the Ravens' new training complex in Owings Mills.

While high-profile gridiron luminaries such as Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder stomped a few feet behind him and shouted into their cellular telephones at the annual league meetings last week in Palm Beach, Fla., Bisciotti puffed on a cigar and ignored the noise.

The awe that the Anne Arundel County businessman said he experienced four years ago at his first owners' meetings has subsided. He describes this impending ascension as an anticlimactic one.

His self-portrayal is echoed by his contemporaries. He has fast built a reputation as the antithesis of the micro-managing, publicity-seeking modern owner that's beginning to widely populate professional sports.

"There's a big difference between fame and fortune," said Bisciotti, a Salisbury State graduate who ranked 388th on the Forbes' list of richest Americans last year with a net worth reported at $625 million. "I have the luxury of gaining fortune at a young age and have no interest in the fame. Obviously, to say that this is an ego-less decision would be wrong because ego has to be a part in doing this.

"I put myself in this position and have to deal with the good and the bad that's associated with it. I'm probably not going to be a high-profile guy like Mark Cuban. That's not me."

The good for Bisciotti: joining a 32-member elite fraternity of owners by assuming control of the AFC North champions.

The potential bad: gaining unwanted celebrity status.

Bisciotti hopes to retain his privacy. He wants to still be able to shoot pool and hoist beverages with lifelong friends from his high school days in Severna Park. 

A Millersville resident who launched Aerotek (now known as the Allegis Group) in 1983 and built it into one of the world's leading technical staffing firms, Bisciotti lists golf and boating as two of his chief hobbies.

He relishes attending sporting events, especially sitting courtside at the University of Maryland basketball games. Terrapins coach Gary Williams is an occasional golf partner of this influential athletic booster. 

When asked why he purchased the Ravens, Bisciotti said: "My entire world is surrounded by sport. To be able to participate at a higher level, they say it's a dream come true, every man's fantasy. It gets your emotions flowing. It's an excitement you can't get out of everyday life."

Yet, Bisciotti wants to avoid being overwhelmed by this highly-public position. He's an owner who eschews black-tie events. He finds his comfort zone is spending time at home with his wife, Renee, watching his sons, Jason and Jack, play high school sports, or attending mass.

Bisciotti has stepped away from the day-to-day operations of his primary business. He said he's well aware that there will be times when he has to speak or act forcefully for the organization.

"I have an obligation," Bisciotti said. "Whenever you have an obligation to a lot of people, there's fear in letting them down. At the same time, I have an obligation to my family to make sure this doesn't compromise our quality of life.

"My wife means a lot more to me than the Ravens, and my children mean more to me than the Ravens. I want to make sure I can give Baltimore the Ravens without having to give Baltimore my life."

Bisciotti has attended league meetings for the past four years and been advised by Art Modell, a charter member of the league's old guard. Bisciotti said he's found himself in agreement with Modell on league and Ravens' matters.

He has followed Modell's advice about getting to know several owners and has not only acquainted and aligned himself with those close to his age bracket and economic status.

"I think Steve's going to be a really good owner and will do a fine job," Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney said. "I've noticed that at some of the meetings people will try to take him a different way and he catches on fast. He makes up his own mind."

Although Bisciotti is taking over the Ravens after four decades of the Modell family running the franchise, the Ravens' front office structure isn't changing much at all. 

General manager Ozzie Newsome will continue to run the personnel department and is under contract through 2006. Brian Billick is the Ravens' coach and his contract extension runs through 2005.

Bisciotti said his goal is for the Ravens to advance to the playoffs 60 percent of the time.

"I don't anticipate changes," Bisciotti said. "If Ozzie and Brian packed up and left, that would be major change. That would be scary. We've had four years to get to know each other and I didn't run them off and I didn't scare them off."

Veteran Washington corporate lawyer Dick Cass will soon officially replace outgoing team president David Modell, Art's son. The Modells plan to start their own sports business with an Inner Harbor office where they will employ former Ravens chief financial officer Luis Perez.

Cass represented Jones in litigation against the NFL and the Jack Kent Cooke estate in the sale of the Redskins to Snyder. 

"Dick is a great guy and truly one of the smartest people that I've ever met," Bisciotti said. "He's a great resource."

The four-year transition in ownership was intended for Bisciotti to learn the ways of the league. His involvement with the team allowed Modell to help pay off the debt acquired in moving the team from Cleveland.

The closing date of the sale, which involves a mountain of paperwork, was set by Bisciotti for after the NFL meetings so Modell could receive a tribute from his fellow owners.

"Steve Bisciotti is going to be an outstanding owner in the National Football League," Art Modell said. "He's got love for the game. He's strong. He's going to be a good one.

"Trust me on that. You can come back in a few years and say, ‘Hey, Art you were right for a change.'"

Bisciotti readily acknowledges that he's not a football expert and doesn't plan on exercising anything resembling a fantasy-sports approach.

He said he's a great believer in empowering experienced people and allowing them breathing room to operate. That's not to say he's not in favor of a spirited exchange of ideas.

"If you ask the people I've worked with the last 20 years, I'm very opinionated and I'm very forceful," Bisciotti said. "I have a strong personality and I want people to argue their position. I can challenge them and I want them be strong enough in their convictions that if they don't agree with me they can stay firm.

"I don't ever want them to agree with me because they are scared to do what they think is right. We can disagree."

One year after graduating from Salisbury in 1982, Bisciotti founded his own company.

Today, the high-tech, aviation and corporate staffing firm has 4,600 internal employees and 65,000 contract workers across the United States, Canada and Europe.

The Allegis Group is the sixth-largest staffing firm in the world, third-biggest in the United States.

"All I did was apply my people skills and management skills and what I consider to be an ability to judge character," Bisciotti said.

Now, Bisciotti is on the Forbes list as part of an exclusive group that includes everyone from William Gates, Warren Buffet, Donald Trump and Oprah Winfrey.

That wealth apparently hasn't changed Bisciotti.

His business background hasn't encouraged Bisciotti to think that he's capable of making an expert football decision.

"Guys aren't going to be right every time, but when you're in a position like Brian or Ozzie, excellence is being right 75 percent of the time," Bisciotti said. "If Brian's right 75 percent of the time, people tend to focus on the 25 percent of what they don't like about Brian's strategies. They tend to forget about the 75 percent they do agree with. 

"I can't be a typical fan that way. I can't get caught up in the 25 percent they do wrong. I have to look at them over a longer period of time and appreciate and value their successes on that basis."

One impending change Bisciotti is quick to mention is a planned increase of television sets and bathroom stalls in the upper decks at M&T Bank Stadium. He said he visited a friend during the third quarter of a game last year and was struck by how long the line was for the bathroom.

Bisciotti is also overseeing the construction of a 97,000 square-foot training complex in Owings Mills that's scheduled to be completed in October. The facility will include three outdoor practice fields, an indoor field, locker rooms, a dining room, a players' lounge along with training, rehabilitation and weight rooms.

He wants to ensure that Modell always feels welcome and continues his habit of parking his golf cart on the sidelines at practice.

"After four years, the Modells and Biscotti's have become very close friends," Bisciotti said. "They have been very good and gracious to us in giving me the accessibility that I needed to prepare myself for this day.

"Art's an incredible resource, and I just don't want him out of my life because we're friends. I want to let them know that they're not forgotten and are always welcome and part of the Ravens' family. Besides, it wouldn't be the same without Art sitting in his cart at practice. Plus, I need a place to sit."

Bisciotti grew up as fan of the Baltimore Colts, regularly attending training camp in Westminster. He once waited in line to pose for photographs and coax autographs from Colts legends such as Johnny Unitas and Raymond Berry. 

"Those were fabulous memories," said Bisciotti, who wants to extend the Ravens' arrangement with McDaniel College.

Now, the adult Bisciotti owns a football team valued recently at $607 million, fifth-highest in the NFL. He said he views this transaction as becoming the caretaker of a public trust.

"I hope I have the luxury of sitting in these meetings 40 years from now, complaining and talking about the good, old days like Art does," Bisciotti said. "My good old days are now."

NOTE: The Ravens didn't attend the workout for Ohio State sophomore running back Maurice Clarett, but do plan to check out USC sophomore wide receiver Mike Williams on Thursday in Tampa.

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

Ravens Insider Top Stories