John KimESPN staff writer4 minute reading
MINNEAPOLIS — The Washington Commanders no longer belong to Dan Snyder.
NFL owners voted in a special session Thursday to unanimously approve the team’s sale from the Snyder family to a group led by Josh Harris.
The Harris Group is paying $6.05 billion, a record sum for a North American sports franchise. Snyder had owned the majority of Commanders since 1999, and his family became sole owners after he bought out his limited partners two years ago.
“Congratulations to Josh Harris and his impressive group of partners,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “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 assembled is outstanding for his business acumen and strong Washington ties, and we welcome them to the NFL as well.”
“… I know he has a commitment to winning on the field, but also to running an organization that everyone will be proud of – and to making positive contributions in the community.”
Harris and Snyder entered into an exclusive agreement on May 12, but the NFL’s finance committee, according to Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay, wanted Harris to adjust his offer to comply with NFL guidelines. Harris couldn’t carry more than $1.1 billion in debt, and the committee wanted him to have more equity in the deal. The primary owner must put up 30% of the sum.
Getting the bid into compliance, among other things, had meant that the vote was delayed.
The Finance Committee met with Harris for the first time on June 7 in New York. After sounding a warning during the owners meetings in May, Irsay was more optimistic after this meeting that a deal would be approved soon.
Harris’ group includes NBA Hall of Famer Magic Johnson and billionaire Mitchell Rales, who, like Harris, is from Maryland. There are 20 limited partners in the Harris group, below the NFL limit of 25. Each partner had to be vetted for financial and security reasons.
Harris – along with David Blitzer as part of the Harris-Blitzer Sports Entertainment group – also owns the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers and the NHL’s New Jersey Devils. Harris is also the general partner of Crystal Palace FC in the English Premier League and a minority shareholder in Joe Gibbs Racing.
Harris co-founded Apollo Management, an asset management firm, in 1990. He has a net worth of $5.8 billion, according to Forbes.
Taking over distressed assets launched Harris’ wealth. And that’s what he wants to do in Washington.
Snyder had been the subject of several investigations over the past three years, leading to speculation about his future as an owner and causing many fans to lessen their attachment to the franchise. But on October 18, after Irsay told reporters there was “merit” in removing Snyder as owner, Snyder released a statement along with his wife, Tanya, saying they would not sell the team.
But on Nov. 2, the Snyders released a statement essentially saying they would consider selling the franchise. It was unclear at the time if they meant some or all of the team, but it quickly became clear that it would be a full sale, based on conversations with people close to the situation. In December, Snyder cleared out his office at the practice facility.
Snyder bought the team in 1999 for $800 million. From 1971 to 1992, the organization appeared in five Super Bowls and won three — with all of those titles occurring in a 10-year span that ended in 1991 under former coach Joe Gibbs.
Under Snyder, Washington had a 164-220-2 record, a .427 winning percentage; only five teams compiled a worse winning percentage in that span. Since 1999, Washington has won the NFC East four times, but fared poorly in the playoffs at 2-6. The organization’s eight playoff appearances were fewer than all but three teams in the past 24 years.
The Commanders last won a playoff game in 2005.
It was just as bad off the field, with a series of controversies over the years slowly eroding what had once been among the strongest fan bases in the NFL.
In 2019, Washington was ranked 30th in percentage of seats sold and 20th in average attendance per game. match. Last season, the Commanders ranked last in both. The last time Washington finished higher than 20th in percent of seats sold was 2007 (second), though with a seating capacity that once topped 90,000, it was in the top five in attendance from 2006 to 2014.
In July 2020, the Washington Post first reported several cases of sexual harassment by former employees. The Post and other outlets also described a workplace culture that had worsened under Snyder. The NFL investigated those allegations and fined the team $10 million in July 2021 for what attorney Beth Wilkinson called a toxic workplace culture.
A month later, the Post reported more allegations, including that an indecent video had been made at Snyder’s request from footage from a cheerleader photo shoot. Snyder denied the claim.
The House Oversight Committee launched an investigation into the team’s workplace in October 2021. It led to separate investigations by the attorneys general of Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia into alleged financial irregularities. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia also launched an investigation into the same issues.
Snyder’s legacy also includes changing the name of the franchise, retiring the original in July 2020 and temporarily going by the Washington Football Team before settling on the Commanders in February 2022. Snyder had hoped to build a new stadium in the Washington, DC area, but several politicians and team officials said no one wanted to make a deal with him.