D.C.’s Josh Harris Taps Steelers Pipeline to NFL Ownership

The Washington Commanders are under new management—news that has been celebrated by their fans since Josh Harris completed his group’s purchase of the team from embattled former owner Dan Snyder.

Harris’ route to a majority NFL ownership stake followed what’s become a well-traveled path, one that goes through Pittsburgh. The Apollo Global co-founder is the third Pittsburgh Steelers limited partner to become a majority NFL owner in just over a decade, joining Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper and Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam. The trio, who all had stakes in the Steelers at one time, make up three of the last six new majority owners in the league.

More from

The Rooney family, which has owned the Steelers through multiple generations since 1933, provided the farm system for the unique group.

So is the ownership pipeline a mere coincidence, or does it speak to the legendary football family? Haslam says it’s a “probably a combination” of both.

“We were very fortunate to come [in 2008] when the Steelers first brought in outside family members alongside David Tepper and a couple owners who are still there,” he said in a phone interview. “For us, it was a lucky break to be part of such a great franchise and work with Dan and Art [Rooney]. It’s much different when you’re a minority, but to see and watch those guys … It was a great experience for us.”

Haslam, who had a roughly 10% stake, held his interest for about five years as he and his wife, Dee, bought the Cleveland Browns for about $1 billion in 2012. The Pilot Flying J chairman sold his limited stake to existing stakeholders and members of the Swank family in 2013. The Haslams have since gone on to buy Major League Soccer’s Columbus Crew and the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks, which they co-own with Wes Edens and Jamie Dinan.

Tepper, who had a 5% stake, was a partner until 2019, one year after he bought the Panthers for $2.2 billion. The Stanton Heights, Pa., native, who also owns Charlotte FC, got the chance to get familiar and navigate league circles for about 10 years before buying the NFC South team from founder Jerry Richardson. Tepper, a billionaire hedge fund manager, sold a portion of his Steelers stake back to the Rooney family as well as to Lending Tree founder Doug Lebda and the Pittsburgh-based NC Revocable Trust.

Both Haslam and Tepper used their Steelers investment to become acquainted with the NFL’s power players and the acquisition process before becoming majority owners themselves. Haslam, though, says that being a minority owner in the NFL doesn’t really prepare you to be the boss, at least from his vantage point.

“When you’re a minority owner, it’s just a different league and a much different experience,” he said. “You get to go to the game on Sundays and stand on the sidelines. You’re happy if you win, but if you lose, you go back to your day job.”

The Steelers, who declined to comment, are currently run by president Art Rooney II, the son of Dan Rooney and grandson of founding team owner Art Rooney, both Hall of Famers. The team was wholly owned by the family until the league mandated a reorganization which brought the Rooney’s into compliance of the 30% equity rule, a requirement for controlling ownership. The restructuring led to the investment opportunity for Tepper and Haslam.

It’s unclear if the Steelers’ pipeline will continue. As team sale prices and valuations rise, it’s uncertain if any of their current investors have the resources to make the jump to majority ownership. According to reports, minority owner Thomas Tull has an estimated net worth of $2.7 billion, while Robert Citrone has a net worth of $1.1 billion. Neither has publicly expressed interest in principal NFL ownership.

The NFL requires investors to sell their limited stakes in other teams once they become a majority owner, so Harris is on the clock to divest his Steelers holdings. Both Harris and Tepper finalized the sale of their minority stakes about a year after buying majority interest in their current teams. The Steelers were valued at $4.8 billion in Sportico’s latest NFL valuations.

Harris, who owns the New Jersey Devils and the Philadelphia 76ers with business partner David Blitzer, isn’t new to this world. He mingled with NFL dealmakers after acquiring a less than 5% stake in 2020 with Blitzer for a reported $140 million.

Haslam believes Harris’ unique ownership group, which includes Blitzer and NBA Hall of Famer Magic Johnson as well as local billionaire Mitch Rales, and his experience operating franchises, will serve him well in the NFL.

And it doesn’t hurt that he’s joining the select club of principal owners as an alumnus of the Steelers’ LP fraternity.

“Let’s face it, I don’t know that we, or anybody coming out of the Browns, are in a position to give advice, because we haven’t done that well, particularly on the field,” Haslam said. “Josh has 20 great [ownership] partners, lots that have been involved in other sports … They’ll do a great job running that franchise well, which helps the entire league. So we’re all excited to see what those guys can do.”

Best of

Click here to read the full article.