Saturday September 30, 2023

Why Josh Harris Was The Only Option To Save The Washington Commanders

  • 76ers and Devils owner went through process of attempting to bid for ownership of the Denver Broncos.
  • Josh Harris put together an ownership which includes Maryland native Mitchell Rales and Magic Johnson.
Josh Harris to buy the Commanders.
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
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Ten months ago, Josh Harris lost out on the Denver Broncos.

The team went for $4.65 billion to Rob Walton, a Walmart heir whose bankroll wasn’t going to be challenged. But as luck would have it, Harris’ hometown team was owned by Dan Snyder. 

A series of scandals — from reports on the Washington Commanders’ toxic workplace culture to multiple investigations to frustration by the NFL’s other owners — led to November’s announcement that Snyder was exploring a sale of the franchise. 

Harris is now inches away from seizing the Commanders. His $6.05 billion bid was enough for a tentative agreement — expected to be officially announced in the coming days — that would set a world-record price for a sports franchise. 

He is much more of a known quantity than Snyder was when he led a group to purchase the franchise for $800 million in 1999. 

Harris and fellow billionaire investor David Blitzer spearheaded the purchase of the Philadelphia 76ers for $287 million in 2011, plus the New Jersey Devils and the Prudential Center for $320 million in 2013.

Harris also owns a  5% stake in the Pittsburgh Steelers, which he will divest after his application is sent to the NFL.

The Anti-Snyder

Sources told FOS that Harris, 58, likes to stay out of the public eye. He doesn’t do many interviews, preferring to let Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment executives manage their respective clubs. 

While Harris almost certainly won’t be what Jerry Jones is for the Cowboys, that doesn’t mean he’ll be a hands-off owner. He’s known for asking questions, including inquiring about what his teams need to succeed.

“He makes sure the people that work for him have good reasons for doing what they do,” former 76ers CEO Adam Aron told Insider in 2020. “I doubt there are many decisions that are made where he is unaware or oblivious to what’s being done. At the end of the day, he lets his people make the decisions because they are the professionals.”

Harris is also willing to admit when HBSE erred — as in 2020, when he canceled pandemic-related pay cuts for Devils and 76ers staff. 

Despite all the issues surrounding the Commanders, Snyder has been more defiant than apologetic. And there appears to be a lot to apologize for — beyond the franchise’s meager six playoff appearances in 24 seasons. 

There are three active investigations: a federal probe led by the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, an inquiry by the Virginia Attorney General, and a second outside-NFL investigation by former SEC chief Mary Jo White. 

White’s report explores allegations of a harassment claim made against Snyder — one that he’s denied — along with allegations of financial improprieties first reported by FOS last year. That report is expected to be released soon. 

The Commanders settled with Maryland and D.C. over allegations they held back ticket deposits from fans. In December, a Congressional investigation’s conclusions were highly critical of Snyder.  

“Our report tells the story of a team rife with sexual harassment and misconduct, a billionaire owner intent on deflecting blame, and an influential organization that chose to cover this up rather than seek accountability and stand up for employees,” said Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), chair of the House Oversight Committee during the body’s Commanders probe. 

“To powerful industries across the country, this report should serve as a wakeup call that the time of covering up misconduct to protect powerful executives is over.”

Change Of Command

Harris isn’t going into Commanders ownership solo. He’s joining up with fellow Maryland native Mitchell Rales, who comes in with a net worth north of $5.5 billion. Together with partner Magic Johnson, the group has a total net worth of around $12 billion.

Sources told FOS that other partners in the purchase are expected to be made public ahead of an NFL ownership vote, which requires three-fourths of owners (24 or more) to approve. 

The transfer in ownership truly begins when the NFL receives an application, which is reviewed by the league’s finance committee. Once it makes its recommendation, a vote will be scheduled. 

It took 50 days from Walton’s announcement as the winning bidder for the Broncos before the finance committee finished its review, and a full ownership vote occurred 14 days later at a special owners meeting in August. 

The richest figure linked to the Commanders’ sale process — Amazon founder Jeff Bezos — dropped out, FOS reported Wednesday. Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta put in a $5.6 billion bid and wasn’t willing to go any higher. Questions remain over the status of the only other contender, Canadian businessman Steve Apostolopoulos.

Other names were tossed around, from media mogul Byron Allen to Matthew McConaughey and Jay-Z. Like Harris, Allen had an interest in the Broncos — but he didn’t have the bankroll, let alone $1.4 billion more than that. 

Unsurprisingly, Harris’ name was attached to the sale from the start. Beyond the Broncos, Harris also explored a purchase of the New York Mets in 2020. 

While sources said his original bid didn’t satisfy Snyder, Harris boosted that number in recent weeks to just beyond $6 billion, which met the owner’s “gold standard.”

That’s far from the $7 billion Snyder was seeking, but that’s reality. 

Despite what Forbes reported in December — that early bidding exceeded $7 billion — the price included worrisome revenue streams, a new stadium that will cost at least $3 billion, the investigations, and fellow owners pressuring Snyder to sell. 

Barring an unforeseen turn, Harris will take over a team before the Commanders start training camp in late July. Then the work of repairing this once-proud franchise begins.

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