NFL approves $6 billion deal for Washington Commanders

NFL approves  billion deal for Washington Commanders

Owners of the other 31 NFL teams unanimously approved the sale of the Washington Commanders to a group led by Josh Harris, the private equity billionaire, who agreed to pay a record $6.05 billion to Daniel Snyder, the scandal-plagued team owner.

That surpassed the highest price ever paid by an American sports team, the $4.65 billion that a group led by Walmart heir Rob Walton paid last year for the Denver Broncos. The Commanders transaction is expected to be formally closed as early as Friday. Snyder bought the team in 1999 for $800 million.

“Josh will be a great addition to the NFL,” Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement announcing the vote, adding, “I know he is committed to winning on the field, but also to running an organization everyone will be proud of – and to making positive contributions in the community.”

The vote, held at a one-day ad hoc meeting in Minneapolis, will allow Harris and his group to take control of one of the league’s key franchises, which under Snyder has suffered years of on-field defeats and bouts of off-field chaos. Harris has a history of bettering the ratings of other professional teams he owns, the Philadelphia 76ers of the NBA and the New Jersey Devils of the NHL.

Harris and his group will focus on improving the team’s tattered image and exploring options to fix or replace FedEx Field, the team’s home since 1997. The franchise owns land in Maryland and Virginia, the site of its training facility. But many NFL team owners prefer the Commanders build a new stadium in the District of Columbia, where the team has played for most of its history.

“This franchise is part of who I am and who I am as a person,” Harris said, noting that he grew up rooting for the team in nearby Chevy Chase, Maryland. “A new era of Washington football is here.”

Harris and his investment group, which includes real estate mogul Mitchell Rales and retired NBA star Magic Johnson, will have their hands full. During Snyder’s 24-year tenure, the team made the postseason just six times, winning two playoff games. The once-dominant franchise, which won three Super Bowl titles in the 1980s and 1990s, saw attendances drop to league lows as losses mounted, its stadium fell into disrepair and its owner alienated fans and sponsors alike with its combativeness.

Almost from the moment he bought the franchise from Washington in 1999, Snyder clashed with the league and his fellow owners for flouting the salary cap and his insistence that the team retain the original name and logo the franchise had when it moved to Washington, even though many Native American groups considered him racist. The team changed its name to the Commanders in 2020.

In 2020, the NFL also began an investigation into reports of widespread sexual harassment in team offices. After investigating the allegations, Goodell fined the team $10 million but, under pressure from Snyder, did not release the league’s findings. The decision prompted members of Congress to launch their own inquiry, which uncovered more allegations of harassment and financial fraud.

In a 79-page report, the House Oversight and Reform Committee said Snyder, assisted by the NFL and Goodell, suppressed evidence that he and other team executives sexually harassed women who worked on the team for two decades.

The committee said Snyder did everything to stop investigations into him and his team. Efforts, the report said, included his attempt to pay former employees “silence” not to discuss their experiences, his refusal to release a woman from his non-disclosure agreement after she settled a sexual misconduct claim against Snyder for $1.6 million, and his use of private investigators and leaked emails to intimidate former employees into declining interview requests.

The league hired Mary Jo White, a former federal prosecutor, to investigate the allegations unearthed by the committee. White’s report was released after the league approved the sale.

In his 17-month investigation into the team, White found that Snyder sexually harassed a woman who was a former cheerleader and marketing employee for the team, and substantiated allegations that the team intentionally withheld an estimated $11 million in revenue that was supposed to be split among the league’s 32 teams.

The investigation could neither conclude nor rule out that Snyder directed or participated in this revenue protection, but that “at a minimum, he was aware of certain efforts to minimize revenue sharing.”

The league fined Snyder a record $60 million.

Snyder has asked the NFL to indemnify him from pending and potential future legal disputes, but has not received such protection.

For years, Snyder controlled a majority stake with a small group of relatives and friends, as well as three limited partners, including Fred Smith, the president of FedEx, who together owned the remaining 40% of the club. In 2020, partners accused Snyder of mismanaging the team’s finances. Snyder accused them of leaking damaging information about him and the toxic work culture in the team’s office as a way to force the club to sell.

The owners of the other NFL teams, hoping to bury the complicated feud, gave Snyder a waiver to take on hundreds of millions of dollars in additional debt to buy out his partners for $875 million.

With the team floundering and Snyder embroiled in scandals, owners began to think of ways to force him out. In October, Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay became the first owner to publicly say that Snyder should leave the league. Two weeks later, Snyder said he had hired bankers to explore selling the club.

Snyder was eager to find a buyer willing to pay $7 billion, but ultimately settled on Harris, who brought in more than a dozen investors to bid. The league’s finance committee, which reviews team applications, was uncomfortable with the amount of debt Harris was using to fund the buyout. But Harris has put up more of his personal fortune to secure some of that debt.

The finance committee informally voted on Monday to approve the purchase plan, clearing the way for full ownership to vote on the transaction on Thursday.

Although Snyder no longer owns the team, an investigation into allegations of financial improprieties by the commanders continues in the Eastern District of Virginia. Harris will also have to overcome Snyder’s rocky relationship with local politicians, many of whom have been angered by his reluctance to drop the team’s old name. For years, District and Capitol legislators would not consider allowing Snyder to build on the site of RFK Stadium.

With Snyder gone, that resistance may lessen. In December, Goodell spoke with Mayor Muriel Bowser of the District of Columbia, who needs federal support because the National Park Service controls the 190-acre site.

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