Commanders $6B sale would break record for most expensive sports team purchase in U.S. history

A surprising number of the most expensive sports teams sales were triggered by scandal. Or maybe that's not so surprising.

The Washington Commanders are reportedly being sold to billionaire hedge fund manager Josh Harris for a staggering $6 billion, a price tag that would smash the record for most expensive sports team sale in U.S. history.

With the Commanders reportedly soon to be at the top of that list, let's take a refreshed look at the 10 most expensive sports team sales. Were they also partially spurred by scandal and wrongdoing, like Dan Snyder's sale of the Commanders? Let's find out.

1. Washington Commanders, $6 billion

Snyder's 24-year tenure as Commanders owner can't be seen as anything but a failure. His leadership (or meddling) caused the team to constantly struggle and take up near-permanent residence at the bottom of the NFC East, and the NFL determined that he fostered a dysfunctional workplace that was actively hostile toward women. He drove away one of the most dedicated fan bases in football, visibly lessening the value of his franchise, and yet will still walk away from the NFL with a cool $6 billion.

2. Denver Broncos, $4.65 billion

The Broncos sat atop this list for a mere 10 months before being shunted down to No. 2. The Walton-Penner family ownership group purchased the Broncos for $4.65 billion in June 2022, notable because the sale was not caused by scandal or wrongdoing.

3. Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury, $4 billion

Former owner Robert Sarver was accused in Nov. 2021 of a laundry list of workplace offenses, including using the N-word, demeaning female employees in his language and conduct, making inappropriate sex-related jokes and being unduly harsh toward many employees. An NBA investigation found those accusations had merit, and he was fined and suspended for one year. While the discipline didn't require Sarver to sell the Suns and Mercury, he announced his intent to sell a few days after the investigation report was released. Billionaire Mat Ishbia purchased both teams from Sarver in December 2022.

4. New York Mets, $2.4 billion

It wasn't long after Fred Wilpon fully bought the Mets in 2002 that fans began to get disgruntled by the team's direction. And once it was revealed in 2008 that Wilpon and his son Jeff lost hundreds of millions of dollars in Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme, fans began chanting loudly for new owners. Steve Cohen, who is the richest owner in MLB by far (he's worth $17 billion, which is more than the next three richest owners combined), made fans' dreams come true 12 years later when he bought the team in 2020, and just three years later the Mets are running the highest payroll in MLB.

5. Brooklyn Nets, $2.35 billion

Alibaba CEO Joseph Tsai didn't buy the team all at once. He purchased 49 percent of it from Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov in 2017 in a deal that valued the team at $2.3 billion, and then in 2019 he exercised his option to purchase the rest of the team. At the same time he also bought the Barclays Center for $1 billion.

FILE - In this Dec. 26, 2015, file photo, Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder walks the sidelines during an NFL football game against the Philadelphia Eagles, in Philadelphia. The Supreme Court on Monday, June 19, 2017, struck down part of a law that bans offensive trademarks, ruling in favor of an Asian-American rock band called the Slants and giving a major boost to the Redskins in their separate legal fight over the team name. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
Dan Snyder is reportedly selling the Commanders for $6 billion, making it the most expensive U.S. sports team sale of all time. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

6. Carolina Panthers, $2.275 billion

This was another sale that was connected to scandal. The Panthers reportedly paid out at least four "significant" monetary settlements to former employees who had accused then-owner Jerry Richardson of sexually suggestive and racist workplace language and conduct. That was reported on Dec. 17, 2017, and Richardson announced his intent to sell the Panthers — which he'd owned since the team was founded in 1993 — on the same day. In May 2018, he sold the franchise to David Tepper.

7. Houston Rockets, $2.2 billion

Another scandal-free team sale. In fact, everyone was surprised when Leslie Alexander, who bought the Rockets in 1993 for $85 million, put the team up for sale in July 2017. It was sold just a few months later to Houston billionaire Tilman Fertitta for $2.2 billion. That's a lot more than the $81 million he reportedly offered to buy the Rockets for in 1993, a bid which lost to Alexander's by $4 million.

T-8. Los Angeles Clippers, $2 billion

This is the opposite of a scandal-free sale. Before Snyder, this might be the most well known scandal-connected sale in American sports. TMZ released a recording of Clippers owner Donald Sterling making numerous racist remarks to his girlfriend in late April 2014, and following intense pressure from players and fans, four days later he was banned from the NBA for life, and commissioner Adam Silver said he would try to force Sterling to sell the team. Instead, Sterling's wife, who was acting in his stead, negotiated the sale to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.

T-8. Los Angeles Dodgers, $2 billion

It wasn't a racist or sexist scandal that took down former Dodgers owner Frank McCourt. It was his divorce from his now-former wife, Jamie, which ended up being the costliest in California history. They announced their divorce in 2009 and the sticking point would end up being ownership of the Dodgers. Frank claimed he alone was owner of the team (which meant it wouldn't be involved in settlement talks), but a judge disagreed. Commissioner Bud Selig had to get involved in April 2011 and assume control of the team after Frank took out a $30 million loan from MLB to make team payroll. Frank then had to pay Jamie $130 million to give up her stake in the Dodgers, and the team was finally sold in 2012.

(Disclosure: Josh Harris is a co-founder of Apollo Global Management, which owns Yahoo, Inc. He left the private equity firm in 2022.)