Saturday September 30, 2023

The Top Contenders To Purchase The Washington Commanders

  • Bankers and team executives expect Dan Snyder to offload all of the team, which could fetch as much as $7 billion.
  • FOS put together a list of the top three contenders based on interviews with insiders.
Commanders sale awaits to be finalized.
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
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Dan Snyder went on camera with ESPN and defended himself after years of public outrage. 

“They’ve been very supportive,” Snyder said of his fellow owners. “They’ve been great.” 

That was in 2014, when the Washington owner’s sole debacle was the offensive team name. Snyder hasn’t done another interview with a reporter since then — and there’s a lot of controversy to cover before he goes the way of that “R” name.

The man who said he’d “never” change the franchise’s legacy name (before he did in July 2020) is “exploring” options that include a full sale of the franchise — a decision announced last week, days after he vowed he wouldn’t sell.

Turns out Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and the other owners aren’t as supportive as they were years ago. A slew of investigations, the inability to secure a new stadium, dwindling attendance, and an attorney general lawsuit will do that. 

Writing The Check

Snyder is still weighing both a full and partial sale of the franchise, a source with knowledge of the matter told Front Office Sports. But bankers and team executives from around the NFL expect Snyder to offload all of the Commanders, which could fetch as much as $7 billion, and possibly more. 

The NFL Constitution and Bylaws mandate that a principal owner has to write a check that doesn’t bounce for 30% of the purchase price to buy a team. At $7 billion, that would make it $2.1 billion. 

That limits the pool of owners, since you’d barely break the list of the 500 wealthiest people in the U.S. But most of the net worth used in wealth estimations isn’t typically liquid.

The NFL once kept a list of billionaires who meet that ultra-wealthy criteria and who’ve shown interest in team ownership, according to a source with knowledge of the vetting process. 

That list may not still be active, but it’ll still be Snyder, working in conjunction with Bank of America, and not the NFL selecting the next owner of the team. 

How We Got Here

Snyder led the purchase of the Commanders for about $800 million in 1999. Another NFL team didn’t sell for more until 2008 when Stephen Ross bought the Miami Dolphins. 

Then 34, Snyder was the youngest owner in the league. He’s now the second-youngest behind Kansas City Chiefs owner Clark Hunt by about three months. 

  • While Sndyer’s reign has been turbulent at times, it wasn’t until The Washington Post began to report on the toxic workplace culture with the team that things began to snowball. 
  • That led to the first outside investigation of the team by former assistant U.S. Attorney Beth Wilkinson, which led to a $10 million fine of the team in July 2021

While former employees kept pushing for more transparency from the NFL over that investigation, the new crop of probes began after emails between then-Commanders exec Bruce Allen and then-Raiders coach Jon Gruden were leaked in October 2021. 

Days after Gruden stepped down as Raiders coach after his racist, homophobic, and misogynistic emails were published, the House Oversight Committee and the Attorney’s General office for the District of Columbia began their owner probes into the workplace claims. 

On The Ropes

On Thursday, D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine sued the Commanders, Snyder, the NFL, and league commissioner Roger Goodell, alleging the defendants deceived residents in his jurisdiction. Racine hinted that his office could take further action as soon as next week over alleged financial misconduct. 

The House Oversight Committee — which deposed Snyder over the summer — is expected to release its final findings in the coming weeks. Related probes include: 

  • A second outside NFL investigation of the Commanders led by former SEC chief Mary Jo White. 
  • The Justice Department’s investigation into allegations of financial irregularities that involves the U.S. Attorney’s Office of Eastern Virginia. 
  • Inquiries by the attorneys general of Virginia and Maryland. 

None of those would likely hold up a sale, although FOS reported that Snyder would have to set money aside in an escrow account or find another way to indemnify a new ownership group if the team is fined or hit with any civil penalties after a sale. 

When you combine those investigations with the inability to elicit public funds for a new stadium, and the overall state of the franchise, there are a lot of reasons why Commanders fans — as well as the other owners — are hoping Snyder sells. 

While it’s very early in the process, FOS put together a list of three top contenders (for now) from interviews conducted with league insiders and bankers: 

Jeff Bezos

FOS reported nearly two years ago that the Amazon founder had talks to buy a piece of the Commanders.

Bezos has emerged as the likeliest candidate to purchase the franchise, even if Snyder has battled with Bezos’s Washington Post — going so far as to compile information on several of its reporters. 

Jay-Z, who sources told FOS is friendly with Bezos, and Matthew McConaughey could reportedly be part of a Bezos-led ownership group. 

Bezos wouldn’t face any major conflict-of-interest obstacles given his association with Amazon — a league broadcast partner — since he stepped down as CEO last year. 

Behdad Eghbali and José Feliciano

Like Bezos, the Clearlake Capital co-founders had interest in the 40% stake the now-former Commanders co-owners sought to unload. 

The duo offered $900 million in 2020 to purchase that stake before the NFL gave Snyder a debt waiver to buy that portion of the team he didn’t already own. 

Snyder didn’t want to sell to Eghbali and Feliciano two years ago, and it’s unclear which of the two would be the principal owner. 

The two were also part of the bidding process for the Denver Broncos earlier this year. 

John Henry

Henry’s Fenway Sports Group already owns the Boston Red Sox, Pittsburgh Penguins, a NASCAR team, and (for now) the Premier League’s Liverpool FC. FSG is expected to sell Liverpool, which could go for as much as $5 billion. 

The New York Post reported that Henry is interested in the Commanders, although the proceeds from a Liverpool sale could also go toward a potential NBA expansion franchise, something FSG investor and Lakers star LeBron James expressed interest in last month. 

The NFL no longer bans cross-ownership, so Henry and another rumored candidate — Wizards, Capitals and Mystics owner Ted Leonsis — wouldn’t face any issues there. 

The NFL doesn’t have a cash threshold for limited partners, and there can be as many as 15 per team. 

The others who have expressed or reported interest in a minority stake in the Commanders include Kevin Durant, Robert Griffin III, and media mogul Byron Allen (if he can’t put together a bid to lead an effort as a principal owner). 

What Happens Now

The loudest voices when a team first goes on the market — or is expected to be sold — rarely end up with the franchise.

In fact, most of the time, the banker in charge of the transaction wouldn’t let those with questionable liquidity near the books as part of the due diligence process. 

This process — if a full sale is what Snyder chooses — will be conducted behind closed doors, with only a handful of people aware of the details. It typically takes several months. 

The potential ownership candidate would work with the banker to submit the paperwork to the NFL finance committee, which would need to vet and approve it before it goes to a full vote to ownership that requires at least 24 votes to approve the sale. 

In that interview from more than eight years ago, ESPN’s John Barr asked Snyder if his defense of the “R” name would define his time as owner. 

“No,” Snyder responded. 

He’ll be proven correct — especially if he doesn’t end up selling the team.  

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