MINNEAPOLIS — The Washington Commanders no longer belong to Dan Snyder.
NFL owners voted during a special session Thursday to unanimously approve the team’s sale from the Snyder family to a group led by Josh Harris.
The Harris group is paying $6.05 billion, a record sum for a North American sports franchise. Snyder had owned the majority of the Commanders since 1999, and his family became the sole owners after he bought out his limited partners two years ago.
“Congratulations to Josh Harris and his impressive group of partners,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “Josh will be a great addition to the NFL. He has a remarkable record in business, sports, and in his communities. The diverse group that Josh has put together is outstanding for its business acumen and strong Washington ties and we welcome them to the NFL as well.”
Harris and Snyder entered into an exclusive agreement May 12, but the NFL’s finance committee, according to Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay, wanted Harris to adjust his offer to get in compliance with NFL guidelines. Harris could not carry more than $1.1 billion in debt, and the committee wanted him to have more equity in the purchase. The primary owner must put up 30% of the sum.
Getting the bid in compliance, among other issues, had caused the vote to be delayed.
The finance committee met with Harris for the first time June 7 in New York. After sounding a note of caution during the owners meetings in May, Irsay was more optimistic following this meeting that a deal would be approved soon.
Harris’ group includes NBA Hall of Famer Magic Johnson and billionaire Mitchell Rales, who, like Harris, is from Maryland. There are 20 limited partners in the Harris group, under the NFL limit of 25. Each partner had to be vetted for financial and security reasons.
Harris — along with David Blitzer as part of the Harris-Blitzer Sports Entertainment group — also owns the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers and NHL’s New Jersey Devils. Harris also is a general partner of Crystal Palace FC in the English Premier League and a minority shareholder in Joe Gibbs Racing.
Harris co-founded Apollo Management, an asset management firm, in 1990. He has a net worth of $5.8 billion, according to Forbes.
Taking over distressed assets launched Harris’ wealth. And that’s what he will be doing in Washington.
Snyder had been the subject of multiple investigations over the past three years, leading to speculation about his future as an owner and causing numerous fans to lessen their attachment to the franchise. But on Oct. 18, after Irsay had told reporters there was “merit” to removing Snyder as owner, Snyder released a statement along with his wife, Tanya, that said they would not sell the team.
However, on Nov. 2, the Snyders released a statement saying in essence that they would consider selling the franchise. It was unclear at the time if they meant some or all of the team, but it soon became clear it would be a full sale, based on conversations with people close to the situation. In December, Snyder cleared out his office at the practice facility.
Snyder purchased the team in 1999 for $800 million. From 1971 to 1992, the organization appeared in five Super Bowls and won three — with all those titles occurring in a 10-year period that ended in 1991 under former coach Joe Gibbs.
Under Snyder, Washington had a 164-220-2 record, a .427 winning percentage; only five teams compiled a worse winning percentage in that span. Since 1999, Washington won the NFC East four times but fared poorly in the playoffs, going 2-6. The organization’s eight playoff games were fewer than all but three teams in the past 24 years.
The Commanders last won a playoff game in 2005.
It was just as bad off the field, with a number of controversies over the years slowly eroding what once had been among the strongest fan bases in the NFL.
In 2019, Washington ranked 30th in percentage of seats sold and 20th in average attendance per game. Last season, the Commanders ranked last in both. The last time Washington finished higher than 20th in percentage of seats sold was 2007 (second), although with a seating capacity that once topped 90,000, it ranked among the top five in attendance from 2006 to 2014.
In July 2020, the Washington Post first reported several instances of sexual harassment by former employees. The Post and other outlets also detailed a workplace culture that had deteriorated under Snyder. The NFL investigated these claims and fined the team $10 million in July 2021 for what attorney Beth Wilkinson termed a toxic workplace culture.
A month later, the Post reported more allegations, including that a lewd video had been made at Snyder’s request from outtakes of a cheerleader photo shoot. Snyder denied the allegation.
The House Oversight Committee launched an investigation into the team’s workplace in October 2021. That led to separate investigations by the attorneys general in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia into alleged financial improprieties. The U.S. attorney’s office in the Eastern District of Virginia also launched an investigation into the same issues.
Snyder’s legacy also includes changing the name of the franchise, retiring its original one in July 2020 and temporarily going by the Washington Football Team before settling on Commanders in February 2022. Snyder had hoped to build a new stadium in the Washington, D.C., area, but numerous politicians and team officials said no one wanted to make a deal with him.