NFL owners unanimously OK the Commanders sale to Josh Harris; Dan Snyder fined $60M on the way out
Jul 20, 2023, 2:03 PM | Updated: 3:56 pm
(AP Photo/Derik Hamilton, File)
BLOOMINGTON, Minn. (AP) — NFL owners unanimously approved the sale of the Washington Commanders on Thursday from Dan Snyder to a group led by Josh Harris and including Magic Johnson for a record $6.05 billion, right before the league announced a $60 million fine for Snyder for improprieties corroborated by its investigation into workplace culture and business dealings.
“We are humbled and awed by the level of responsibility that we have to take care of the city, to win championships and really excite the fans again,” Harris said in a news conference after the vote.
The purchase by Harris Blitzer Sports and Entertainment is the highest price paid for a North American professional sports club. Harris, like Snyder and Commissioner Roger Goodell, grew up in the Washington metro area as an avid fan of the team.
“He has a remarkable business record, not just in finance but also now in sports, and I think he’s a person who cares deeply about not just his assets but at least more importantly his communities,” Goodell said.
The sale was expected to close in the coming days and thus finalize an ugly two-plus decades for one of the NFL’s oldest franchises. Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones beamed in a brief interview with reporters on his way into the meeting.
“It’s a hallmark day,” Jones said. “I’m excited about the prospects of going into Washington and giving them some capital punishment.”
Owners also received an in-person summary from former U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White on her investigation for the NFL into the Commanders that was launched 1½ years ago launched in light of the congressional review into workplace misconduct that also included a referral to the Federal Trade Commission for potential business improprieties by Snyder.
The probe corroborated an allegation that Snyder sexually harassed a former team employee who first brought that account forward in front of a House committee.
White’s report also confirmed that team executives under Snyder’s supervision deliberately withheld millions of dollars in revenue from other clubs.
Snyder had owned his favorite boyhood team since 1999, when he bought it for $800 million. Success was fleeting, both on and off the field. With Snyder in charge, the team made the playoffs just six times in 24 years, only twice won a postseason game and went 166-226-2 overall. The franchise has lost a significant amount of luster from the glory days under coach Joe Gibbs, who won three Super Bowls in his 12-year run from 1981-92.
Then there were the problems outside of football, from a feud with minority owners that led Snyder to buy out their shares of the team to allegations of sexual harassment by former employees, which prompted a series of investigations into workplace misconduct. Over and over again, Snyder said he would never sell the team.
The tide began to shift on that front last October when Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay said there was “merit to remove” Snyder, an ouster that would have required votes from at least 24 of the other 31 clubs. Two weeks later, Snyder and his wife Tanya hired a firm to begin exploring a sale of part or all of one of the NFL’s oldest franchises — one that has called the nation’s capital home since 1937.
Ultimately, that process led to a group chaired by Harris. His investment crew also includes David Blitzer, with whom he co-owns the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers and the NHL’s New Jersey Devils, Washington-area businessman Mitchell Rales and more than a dozen others. The unusually large ownership group needed and received league finance approval for a deal that shattered the $4.35 billion Walmart heir Rob Walton paid last year for the Denver Broncos.
The special meeting for the Commanders sale was conducted at the same hotel adjacent to the Mall of America in suburban Minneapolis where Walton’s group gained formal control of the Broncos. Johnson raved about the approval of the sale on Twitter — “truly the biggest achievement in my business career,” he tweeted — shortly before Harris posed for photos with a Commanders helmet and accepted well wishes from Goodell and others.
“They want to put that franchise where they believe it belongs, where it’s respected not just in the community but worldwide,” Goodell said. “They’re committed to that.”
Their biggest immediate challenge for the long-term future of the organization is a new stadium to replace FedEx Field, the rushed-to-completion home of the team since 1997 in Landover, Maryland, that has not aged well. Virginia abandoned a stadium bill more than a year ago, a consequence of the number of off-field controversies swirling around the team. The site of RFK Stadium, the club’s previous home in the capitol city, has significant backing as the place for the new venue.
“It’s going to take awhile to unpack what really makes sense,” Harris said. “As far as RFK, I understand it’s the spiritual home of the history of the Commanders.
Bringing the fans back is a major priority after Washington ranked last in the league in attendance in 2022 and second-to-last in 2021. The team rebranded last year as the Commanders after dropping the name Redskins in 2020 and generically going by the Washington Football Team for two seasons.
“I’ve had many sleepless nights, and I will have many sleepless nights. I’m going to sweat this,” Harris said. “I feel an awesome responsibility to the city of Washington. I know what I’ve got to give.”
Whyno reported from Washington.
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