Dan Snyder has an agreement in principle to sell the Washington Commanders to a group led by Josh Harris and Mitchell Rales that includes Magic Johnson for a North American professional sports team record $6.05 billion.
It’s the biggest step yet in the process of Snyder selling the storied NFL franchise he has owned since 1999. But it’s far from the last one before the group assumes control.
What happens now?
Currently, there’s a fully financed, nonexclusive agreement in place, but it has not yet been signed by the buying and selling parties. They’ll work out the fine print with lawyers and execute a binding agreement to complete the sale process at the team level.
The league then gets involved for a thorough vetting process, including background checks and an evaluation by the finance committee. Once everything checks out, it goes to the owners for a vote, with three-quarters (24 of 32) needed to approve the sale and make it official.
That could happen as soon as the next owners meeting in Minnesota in late May, though it would not be alarming in any way if the process took longer than that to unfold.
Who are the new owners?
Harris, 58, is best known in sports for owning the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers and NHL’s New Jersey Devils along with partner David Blitzer, and he also has a stake in the Crystal Palace soccer club in the Premier League. He was born in Chevy Chase, Maryland, grew up in the Washington area and made his money through a private equity firm.
Last year, Harris led a group that tried to buy the Denver Broncos before they were sold to Walmart heir Rob Walton for a then-record $4.65 billion.
Rales, 66, also grew up outside the nation’s capital and with his brother started the Danaher Corporation, a science and technology conglomerate. He and his wife also founded the private Glenstone museum in Potomac, Maryland. Rales joined Harris’ bid in early March.
Johnson, 63, could be the face of ownership after joining the group in late March. The well-known basketball Hall of Famer who has become a successful executive previously owned a piece of the Lakers and currently has stakes in Major League Baseball’s Los Angeles Dodgers, Major League Soccer’s Los Angeles FC and the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks.
What’s the price?
The $6.05 billion price tag for the Commanders is above the $5.6 billion Forbes values the team at, but it meets the number Snyder was looking for in order to sell.
Beyond being more expensive than the Broncos, it’s higher than the $4 billion Mat Ishbia paid for the NBA’s Phoenix Suns and WNBA’s Mercury. Steve Cohen bought the New York Mets for an MLB-record $2.42 billion in 2020. When Fenway Sports Group purchased the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins in 2021, a dollar figure was not released, though Forbes valued the team at $845 million.
Harris, Rales and Johnson were not the only group to reach the final stages to get the Commanders. Canadian investor Steve Apostolopoulos also entered a fully financed bid of $6 billion.
Earlier this week, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos decided not to make an offer — perhaps he waits until the Seahawks become available? — and that sped up the process of Snyder choosing to sell to the Harris group.
What happens to the team?
It’s not clear if new ownership will have the chance to rebrand the Washington team that only became the Commanders in early 2022, or if there’s any interest in doing so. Team president Jason Wright has said he would like to stay on in the role he was hired for by Snyder in 2020.
Ron Rivera is expected to remain as coach and head of player personnel, along with general manager Martin Mayhew and the rest of the front office. If the Commanders get off to a rough start or miss the playoffs, changes could happen once the new owners get a feel for the organization.
The biggest task for the long-term future of the franchise is reaching an agreement on a new stadium. The team’s lease at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland, expires in 2027 and the rushed-to-completion stadium that opened in 1997 has not aged well.
Virginia has long figured to be the front-runner to land the new stadium, but that was with Snyder doing the negotiating, and the legislature there abandoned a bill to fund one last year.
The site of old RFK Stadium — the team’s longtime home in the District of Columbia — is the dream location for many, but it comes with government hurdles. There is land available across the Anacostia River from Nationals Park that could be an option.
Or Harris’ and Rales’ connections to Maryland could keep the team there, perhaps in a location closer to public transit and easier to navigate.
The decision is crucial for a franchise that has not won a championship in more than 30 years and is desperate to bring fans back, which already will get a jumpstart with Snyder gone.