Reports: Dan Snyder reaches preliminary agreement to sell Washington Commanders to 76ers owner Josh Harris for $6B

Nearly six months after a fellow NFL team owner publicly declared that he believed “there’s merit to remove” Dan Snyder from owning the Washington Commanders, Snyder is close to finding a different solution.

Snyder has reportedly reached a preliminary agreement to sell the Commanders to hedge fund manager Josh Harris for an NFL-record $6 billion, according to Sportico and NFL Media's Ian Rapoport.

The decision comes several weeks after the NFL’s annual league meeting in Phoenix, where team owners, executives and head coaches all convened. Had Snyder’s well-documented concerns not yet been resolved, team owners could have decided whether to vote on his removal. NFL bylaws stipulate three-fourths of club owners — 24 — must approve a forced sale.

It doesn't seem like force will be necessary.

The Commanders’ new ownership group would include Harris, co-founder of Apollo Global Management and team owner of the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers and NHL’s New Jersey Devils; D.C.-area billionaire Mitchell Rales, who co-founded Fortune 500; and NBA Hall of Famer Magic Johnson.

Dan Snyder's time as owner of the Washington NFL franchise is about to come to an end. (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)
Dan Snyder's time as owner of the Washington NFL franchise is about to come to an end. (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and Tilman Fertitta, who owns the NBA’s Houston Rockets, were also reportedly interested, per The Washington Post, though Snyder reportedly prevented Bezos’ bid due to discord with the Bezos-owned Post.

Snyder has long refused to sell his team, just as he had long refused to change the name of his now twice-renamed-in-the-last-three-years Commanders. But on Nov. 2, a statement from the Commanders indicated a change in tone.

“Dan and Tanya Snyder and the Washington Commanders announced today,” read the statement, “that they have hired BofA Securities to consider potential transactions.”

Snyder’s Commanders ‘far short of NFL values,’ investigation found

NFL team owners didn’t expect this descent when they unanimously approved Snyder’s purchase of the franchise on May 25, 1999.

“He impresses me as a team player,” then-New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson said, per Washington Post archives. “He’s going to be a good partner for us.”

The Commanders’ former nickname of "Redskins" predated Snyder, but it was he who in 2013 told USA Today that he would “NEVER — you can use the caps” change his mascot despite it being considered by some as racially insensitive and offensive terminology.

The 2020 threat of sponsorship revocation from companies including FedEx, whose name canvasses the Commanders’ stadium, prompted the nickname's July 2020 removal. But concerns about Snyder’s fitness to be a team owner were just starting to boil.

Allegations against Snyder and the Commanders have tumbled forward in the past three years. More than 40 women who worked for the Commanders alleged they were sexually harassed in the workplace by colleagues including Snyder and executives. A subsequent NFL investigation determined “the culture of the club was very toxic and fell far short of the NFL’s values,” and the league fined Snyder $10 million in July 2021.

The NFL did not officially suspend Snyder then, instead saying his wife, Tanya, would oversee daily operations. The league also refused to release the full findings or any written report of its investigation, citing privacy concerns. The result: U.S. Congress’ House Committee on Oversight and Reform opened its own investigation. In Congressional testimony, former Washington cheerleader and marketing manager Tiffani Johnston accused Snyder of making sexual advances, including putting his hand on her thigh, during a work dinner. Snyder also pushed her toward his car afterward, she said, before his attorney stopped him and said it was “a very bad idea, Dan.”

That February 2022 testimony prompted the NFL to open another investigation, this time hiring former U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission chair Mary Jo White. In 2018, White had investigated allegations of sexual harassment and use of racial slurs against then-Carolina Panthers team owner Jerry Richardson. The NFL fined Richardson $2.75 million after her investigation substantiated the claims. Richarsdon had already put the team up for sale by then, and its new owner was approved before the five-month investigation was complete.

White’s investigation of Snyder, however, has dragged on more than a year. NF commissioner Roger Goodell has repeatedly said the league had not given and would not give White a timeline by which to conclude her process.

As the investigation period continued, though, allegations continued to mount.

Congress sounds alarm on Snyder's financial integrity

On April 12, 2022, the House Oversight Committee contacted the Federal Trade Commission regarding a new strain of Snyder-related concerns: financial impropriety.

“We are writing to share evidence of concerning business practices by the Washington Commanders uncovered during the Committee’s ongoing investigation into workplace misconduct at the team,” the letter read. “Evidence…indicate(s) senior executives and the team’s owner, Daniel Snyder, may have engaged in a troubling, long-running and potentially unlawful pattern of financial conduct that victimized thousands of team fans and the National Football League (NFL).”

The Commanders were accused of violating league revenue-sharing agreements, allegedly keeping “two sets of books” to conceal profits from the NFL.

Snyder’s repeated inability — largely due to his reputation and practices — to secure a new stadium deal for the Commanders didn’t help his standing among team owners. Last October, ESPN reported acrimony among the group and Snyder investigating fellow team owners so he could threaten to release “dirt” if they threatened to force a sale.

Mere days later, Indianapolis Colts team owner Jim Irsay descended the lobby steps of a New York hotel where the league was holding a meeting and elaborated to reporters on what he considered to be decades of “gravely concerning” behavior from Snyder.

“At this point, I’m very concerned that he needs to be removed,” Irsay said. “There has to be serious consideration to be ready to move in that direction.”

A Commanders spokesman called Irsay’s remarks “highly inappropriate,” asserting that there is “no reason for the Snyders to consider selling the franchise.

“And they won’t.”

BofA securities was hired to explore sale possibilities weeks later.

Washington flailed on field under Snyder's team ownership

Once a cornerstone NFL franchise that won three Super Bowls during a 10-year stretch, Washington has struggled to win for much of Snyder's 24-season tenure.

The team has won just two playoff games, including one his first season as owner in 1999 and the next in 2005. Only four times did Washington win the NFC East title — even though it’s changed hands every year since 2003. Instead, Snyder’s team compiled a 164-220-2 record in the regular season and cycled through eight head coaches, including the much-publicized Steve Spurrier misfire from 2002-2003, as well as two interim coaches.

There were brief flashes of excitement, from Robert Griffin III's offensive rookie of the year campaign in 2012 to Kirk Cousins' "You like that?" game that punctuated a division title season in 2015. Washington also drafted and signed franchise greats like Champ Bailey, Trent Williams and London Fletcher. Current head coaches Kyle Shanahan, Sean McVay, Matt LaFleur and Mike McDaniel famously got their NFL coaching starts with Washington.

Snyder's time was a far cry from the championship level that preceded him. Off the field, dysfunction spread even further. So while Harris and company are set to become the league’s second new NFL team ownership group in as many years, they arrive with a much taller task than the Walter-Penner group who bought the Denver Broncos last year for $4.65 billion.

And yet: They might have a chance to restore a once-proud franchise.

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

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