A game of political football
Starting in 1966, the team formerly known as the Redskins began its RFK Stadium sellout streak. For decades, tickets for home games were harder to snag than Taylor Swift tickets today. Divorcing couples battled over custody of season tickets, and the team reportedly had a 100-year-plus season ticket waitlist.
That changed in the Dan Snyder era — to put it mildly. During the 21st century, former fans dropped season tickets like a dog sheds its fur. The team kept losing games under an ever-changing series of coaches and general managers whom Snyder micromanaged and then fired after lackluster seasons.
Perhaps the nadir for fan relations was 2009, when the team actually sued a 72-year-old season-ticket holder — a grandmother — who requested that the team waive her season tickets after the Great Recession hurt her real estate business.
Meanwhile, in the front office, according to an NFL investigation released in July, Snyder and his executives created a workplace in which sexual harassment and hostile treatment of employees thrived. Snyder has vehemently denied these allegations, but after 24 years as owner, he sold the team for a record-setting $6 billion in July to a group of 20 investors.
Josh Harris, a Maryland native and private equity billionaire, is now the principal owner of the Washington Commanders, as well as the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers and the NHL’s New Jersey Devils.
I sat down with Harris in September at the Planet Word language-arts museum in Washington, D.C., where the team hosted a VIP-only season kickoff party before its first regular season home game. The 58-year-old Harris, who made his money as a co-founder of private equity firm Apollo Global Management, is getting used to the brighter spotlight that comes with being an NFL team owner.
He says the question of where a new stadium will go is in very early stages — although Harris’ group has more options than Snyder did, with renewed interest among Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C., officials to host the stadium following the change in ownership. (See related story.) Included among Virginia’s state budget amendments passed in September was a $250,000 stadium study, a promising gesture.
Looking between the lines, there’s a fair argument that FedEx Field’s replacement could land in the old RFK Stadium space. In our interview (see October 2023 cover story), Harris says that transportation — including Metro access — and the economic boost of a stadium to the community are factors under consideration. His Sixers have built team facilities in underserved, disadvantaged neighborhoods around Philadelphia and its surroundings. It’s not a huge leap to imagine a similar decision benefiting RFK’s neighborhood on the banks of the Anacostia River, instead of a far-flung NoVa suburb.
Of course, nostalgia doesn’t drive such decisions, and with 20 investors in his group, Harris will likely listen carefully to what they say about a new stadium location. Economic incentives could still lure the stadium to Loudoun or Prince William counties, as have been previously suggested, or another Northern Virginia site.
Like many stances, Virginia’s attitude toward inviting the Commanders to place their stadium here — and even keeping their headquarters in Ashburn — could be affected by the November elections, which will see all 140 state Senate and House of Delegates seats up for grabs.
In this issue (see related story), freelance writer Mason Adams delves into the most competitive races that will determine which party will control the state Senate and the House, perhaps for decades to come. Of course, the elections will also play a significant role in Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s latent presidential hopes and his ability to get more tax cuts and other legislation passed in the final two years of his term.
We Monday-morning quarterbacks will be watching.