NFL owners approve $6.05B sale of Washington Commanders
Maryland billionaire Josh Harris acquiring team from embattled Snyder
Dan Snyder’s controversial 24-year tenure as the embattled owner of the Ashburn-based Washington Commanders has come to an end with the record $6.05 billion sale of the team — and a $60 million fine from the NFL.
In a special meeting Thursday, all 32 NFL team owners unanimously approved the team’s sale to a partnership led by Maryland billionaire and Philadelphia 76ers owner Josh Harris for the highest price ever paid for any North American sports franchise. Simultaneously, the league imposed the hefty fine on Snyder, the team’s owner since 1999, over a sexual harassment allegation by an employee and for underreporting revenue.
The sale, which may be finalized as soon as Friday, required the approval of the NFL’s finance committee and three-fourths of the league’s team owners. NFL owners were expected to vote on the sale during their May meeting in Minnesota but delayed the decision until the special meeting Thursday due to the deal’s complexity. (According to ESPN, in order to meet NFL guidelines for the sale, Harris had to restructure his offer to reduce his debt in the deal to no more than $1.1 billion, while upping his personal equity to at least 30% of the purchase price.)
Harris, who is also managing partner and majority owner of the NBA’s 76ers and the NHL’s New Jersey Devils, co-founded private equity company Apollo Global Management. He and a partnership including NBA legend Magic Johnson and billionaire Danaher Corp. co-founder Mitchell Rales reached an agreement with Snyder in May for the sale of the Commanders.
Late Thursday afternoon, the team posted a message from “future Commanders Managing Partner Josh Harris” on its Twitter account: “Today my partners and I were entrusted by the NFL with the stewardship of a great franchise. As a lifelong Washington football fan who grew up here, I know that the Commanders are more than just a sports team. This is an institution, passed down from generation to generation.
“From day one, it is our top priority to deliver you a championship caliber team, and we will strive every day to ensure that we are a franchise that you can be proud of. To Commanders fans everywhere, our promise is simple: We will do the work, create the culture and make the investment needed to deliver for this team and for Washington.”
Leading up to the sale, Snyder and the team’s head office have been under scrutiny for years by the NFL, Congress and national media amid widespread reports of alleged sexual harassment and fostering a hostile work environment. As the sale’s approval was announced Thursday, the NFL released the results of an investigation into Snyder and the Commanders by former U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White, who sustained a report of sexual harassment of a female employee by Snyder as well as allegations that the team deliberately underreported the franchise’s NFL revenues. The NFL imposed the $60 million fine as a resolution to the matters.
“The conduct substantiated in Ms. White’s findings has no place in the NFL. We strive for workplaces that are safe, respectful and professional,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement Thursday.
Goodell also congratulated Harris and “his impressive group of partners,” saying, “Josh will be a great addition to the NFL. He has a remarkable record in business, sports, and in his communities. The diverse group that Josh has put together is outstanding for its business acumen and strong Washington ties and we welcome them to the NFL as well.”
Thursday afternoon following the sale’s approval, Magic Johnson tweeted, “This is truly the biggest achievement in my business career and a historic moment for the entire Black community. Talk about God’s perfect timing. This was the right organization for me to be a part of given it’s global appeal, history of winning, and the diverse fanbase and DMV community. I have a special relationship with the DMV. Many people don’t know I’ve done business in the Washington, DC area for many years. I was one of the owners of the Washington Hilton, I built multiple Starbucks franchises and Magic Johnson Theaters, and empowerment centers with the Magic Johnson Foundation. I also have my company SodexoMAGIC headquartered here. The DMV community has embraced and supported me, and I am honored and ecstatic to be a co-owner of the Commanders franchise!”
Harris and Rales’s investment group made a failed bid to buy the Denver Broncos last year. The Broncos instead went to Walmart heir Rob Walton for $4.65 billion, setting what was then a sales record for an NFL sports team. Harris also previously held an ownership stake of less than 5% in the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Snyder’s tenure in charge of Washington team began in 1999 when he purchased it from the estate of Jack Kent Cooke, who first purchased a stake in the team in 1961 and became its majority owner in 1974. During Cooke’s ownership, the team won three Super Bowls in 1982, 1987 and 1991 under Head Coach Joe Gibbs.
A lifelong entrepreneur from Maryland, Snyder co-founded a wallboard advertising company in 1989 with his sister, Michele Snyder, that became Snyder Communications LP. In 2000, Snyder sold the business, which employed 12,000 people, for more than $2 billion.
When Snyder first purchased the Ashburn-based team, it was known as the Washington Redskins, a name criticized for decades as racist and derogatory against Native Americans. The name and logo were retired in 2020 amid a summer of national racial protests and following pressure from corporate sponsors. The team changed its name to the temporary generic moniker of the Washington Football Team before settling on the Commanders.
Snyder’s wife, Tanya, took over as co-CEO of the team in 2021, after the NFL’s $10 million fine of the team for an “improper” and “highly unprofessional” workplace culture. A few months earlier, in March 2021, the Snyders bought out the team’s minority co-owners to become its sole owners. Reports at the time placed the team’s value at $3.5 billion.
After buying the most expensive house in Virginia for $48 million in October 2021, the Snyders apparently moved to England by late 2022, according to public documents Dan Snyder filed to start a business in the United Kingdom.
By November 2022, with controversies, investigations and negative press mounting, Dan and Tanya Snyder hired Bank of America Securities to consider potential sales of the team. And in April, the Snyders reached a tentative agreement to sell to Harris’ group, the same month that the Commanders settled a lawsuit with the Washington, D.C., attorney general’s office over the team’s practices in handling season ticket deposit funds from fans.