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Washington Commanders sale to Josh Harris approved by NFL owners

US$6.05bn deal is a record sum for a North American sports franchise.

21 July 2023 Ed Dixon

Getty Images

  • Harris’ group includes David Blitzer, Magic Johnson and Mitchell Rales
  • Outgoing owner Dan Snyder handed US$60m fine after NFL investigation
  • Investigation concluded Snyder sexually harassed former employee and Commanders intentionally underreported revenues

National Football League (NFL) owners have unanimously approved the sale of the Washington Commanders from Dan Snyder to a group led by Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment (HBSE) founder and managing partner Josh Harris.

Harris, who already co-owns the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) Philadelphia 76ers and the National Hockey League’s (NHL) New Jersey Devils, will pay US$6.05 billion for the Commanders, a record sum for a North American sports franchise.

“I feel an awesome responsibility to the city of Washington,” said Harris. “I know what I’ve got to do. It comes down to winning. It’s on me and on our ownership group to deliver. That’s what we’re going to do.”

Harris, who grew up in the Washington DC area, continued: “This franchise is part of who I am. But being a fan is not enough. To be successful, we need to win championships, create a positive impact on the community and create incredible memories for our fan base much like I had as a youth growing up in Washington.”

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell added: “As someone who grew up in Washington, I know how important that franchise is to that community. The franchise is in good hands with this group.

“They want to put that franchise where they think it belongs, where it’s respected –  not just in the community, but worldwide.”

Reports emerged in April that Snyder, who bought the Commanders for US$800 million in 1999, had agreed to sell the team to Harris. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos had been linked with a bid but purportedly ended any interest in the same month. Snyder and Harris officially reached an agreement in May.

Harris’ group includes his sports business partner David Blitzer, NBA icon Magic Johnson and billionaire Mitchell Rales. All told, there are 20 limited partners in the group, under the NFL limit of 25.

For Snyder, who has been considering a sale since the back end of 2022, he exits as owner of the Commanders with a US$60 million fine from the NFL after the league concluded a 17-month long independent investigation.

Led by former Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) chair Mary Jo White, the investigation concluded that Snyder had sexually harassed a team employee and oversaw executives who deliberately withheld approximately US$11 million in revenue that should have been shared with other NFL franchises.

The 23-page report, released shortly after the sale of the Commanders, added that Snyder and the team failed to fully cooperate with the investigation.

Snyder denied allegations of sexual harassment from the employee, Tiffani Johnston. The investigation also said that he ‘purported to have little knowledge or recollection of any substantive information relevant to the financial issues’.

‘At a minimum, [Snyder] was aware of certain efforts to minimise revenue sharing, at least some of which were later found to be in violation of the NFL rules’, the reported continued.

‘He also set a tone at the top that pressured employees to cut costs and improve the financial performance of the club.’

“The conduct substantiated in Ms White’s findings has no place in the NFL,” said Goodell.

“We strive for workplaces that are safe, respectful and professional. What Ms Johnston experienced is inappropriate and contrary to the NFL’s values.”

A 2021 probe had already concluded that Snyder had overseen a toxic workplace environment for more than a decade, with numerous sexual harassment incidents found to have been overlooked. The Commanders were fined US$10 million as a result.

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