- Harris’ group includes billionaire Mitchell Rales and NBA icon Magic Johnson
- Sale could be approved at NFL owners meeting in May
- Snyder bought the team for US$800m in 1999
Washington Commanders owner Dan Snyder has agreed to sell the National Football League (NFL) franchise to a group led by Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment (HBSE) founder and managing partner Josh Harris, according to reports.
The purported sale price of US$6.05 billion is a record for a North American sports franchise, eclipsing the US$4.65 billion the investment group fronted by Walmart heir Rob Walton paid for the Denver Broncos last year.
The deal for the Commanders is reportedly not final or signed, nor has an agreement been sent to the NFL for approval. Snyder and Harris hope to execute the contract in the coming days.
The sale would need to be approved by at least 24 of the NFL’s 32 owners.
Harris, who co-owns the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) Philadelphia 76ers and the National Hockey League’s (NHL) New Jersey Devils, looked to be in pole position to buy the Commanders after it was reported earlier this week Amazon founder Jeff Bezos had ended his interest.
Harris, who is also a minority owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers and has a stake in English top-flight soccer club Crystal Palace, faced competition for the Commanders from Canadian billionaire Steve Apostolopoulos. Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta confirmed to CNBC he had submitted a bid of US$5.6 billion but ruled out increasing his offer.
The group being led by Harris, which has been in negotiations over the last six months, includes billionaire Mitchell Rales and NBA legend Magic Johnson.
Snyder’s sale of the Commanders would end a tumultuous ownership tenure. The 58-year-old bought the franchise – then known as the Washington Redskins – for US$800 million in 1999 and, despite mounting criticism, insisted he wouldn’t sell.
Things changed after Snyder and the Commanders found themselves under numerous investigations for workplace and financial misconduct, prompting the owner to draft in Bank of America last November to ‘consider potential transactions’. Snyder and the Commanders remain the subject of an internal league investigation.
As for Harris, who co-founded Apollo Global Management, the deal would secure him controlling stakes in teams in three of the four major North American pro sports leagues. He will need to sell his share of the Pittsburgh Steelers before he can get his hands on the Commanders.
Approval from the NFL’s team owners is not expected to be a problem, given the tensions between them and Snyder – they had even mulled removing him from his position. The deal could be signed off at the owners’ next meeting in May, though it may take longer.
Once Harris’ group take up the reins, they will need to address a toxic workplace culture at the Commanders. Improvement is also needed on the pitch, with the franchise having made the playoffs just five times since the 1999 campaign. All that has contributed to dwindling attendances. The Commanders averaged 58,106 fans at home last season, the lowest in the NFL.
Another priority, and an expensive one at that, for the new ownership group will be a new stadium. The Commanders have played at FedEx Field since it opened in 1997, but it lacks the revenue-generating capabilities of modern NFL venues.