PHOENIX — The bidding for the Washington Commanders reached a pivotal moment on Tuesday, just hours before NFL owners wrapped up their annual meeting.
Two groups seeking to purchase the team have submitted bids for the requested $6 billion asking price and claim they are fully funded and would pass NFL financial vetting.
The first group is led by D.C. native Josh Harris but also includes fellow D.C. billionaire Mitchell Rales and NBA star and entrepreneur Magic Johnson. That group has been considered the frontrunner to purchase the NFL franchise.
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Harris is a billionaire who rose to fame and power as co-founder of Apollo Global Management and later purchased the Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Devils, in addition to a stake in Premier League soccer club Crystal Palace.
The second group is fronted by Canadian billionaire Steve Apostolopoulos, who recently withdrew from the bidding for the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets to focus on the Commanders’ hunt.
If the deal is closed at $6 billion it would set a record for a global sports franchise, though one that may not stand for long, as soccer club Manchester United is reportedly on the brink of being sold for more.
The timing of the offers was significant, as they arrived just before Tuesday’s “privileged” session at the NFL league meetings, where owners gather to freely discuss the events of the league, fully off the record.
The sessions have been contentious towards Dan and Tanya Snyder in the past, and the league has long been hopeful to achieve resolution on the sale during the meeting, ideally without having to force the team out.
With two viable bids in hand, the decision now rests with the Snyders on which to take, or whether to entertain other late offers. Sources close to the situation have maintained throughout that Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos will not be allowed to enter the bidding, though it’s possible that could also be a negotiating tactic.
Once a bid is selected, the league is likely to move quickly to vet all members of the winning group and present the offer for approval by 24 of the league’s 32 teams.
Owners were cautious when speaking about the situation on Monday.
“I don’t have a stance,” Patriots owner Robert Kraft said. “I believe that something is close to happening. I don’t know that for sure. We’ll wait and see what happens.”
Dan Snyder has owned Washington’s NFL franchise for 24 years, with a record of 164-220-2. The team has won only two playoff games during that time, despite a number of “offseason championships” where Snyder often overpaid for big-name talent.
The new owners will have lots of work to do. The Commanders, who were the Redskins when Snyder purchased the team in 1999, were one of the league’s most profitable, and winning, franchises.
The new owners will inherit the opposite. The season-ticket base will need to be rebuilt, and the owners will need to work with local governments to develop a site and funding plan for a new stadium to replace the aging, and crumbling, FedEx Field in Landover, Md.
Snyder’s downfall, long in the making, accelerated during 2020.
During that year, he alienated his three minority investors, one of whom helped give momentum to a campaign to change the team’s name shortly after.
That offseason, the Washington Post ran an article detailing an alleged pattern of sexual misconduct by team executives, which led to two NFL investigations and multiple governmental inquiries, including a Congressional hearing and investigations by attorneys general in D.C. and Virginia into the team’s business practices.
During the 2022 season, fans began to chant “sell the team” at the Snyders during home games in Washington, including chanting it at Tanya Snyder while she was promoting her signature initiative, the NFL’s breast cancer awareness campaign.
In November, the team announced it would be retaining Bank of America Securities to investigate the potential sale of all or part of the team.
Harris would likely meet with widespread approval from fellow owners, given his experience in the sports world and ability to finance the large and complex transaction. The amount of cash needed at closing will be in the ballpark of $2 billion.
The Harris group was vetted by the NFL already when it was in the hunt to buy the Denver Broncos last year. The Broncos sold for about $4.65 billion.
It remains to be seen if the Snyders will accept one of Tuesday’s bids, but it puts the sale much closer to a reality than it has been at any point to date.
Michael Phillips (804) 649-6546
@michaelpRTD on Twitter