Editor’s note, Friday, May 12: On Friday, Josh Harris signed an agreement for his group to purchase the Washington Commanders from Dan Snyder for a reported $6.05 billion, a month after initially agreeing to a deal in principle. The final step in the sale process is a vote by league owners, which could happen as soon as their next meeting scheduled for later this month. In April, The Ringer’s Rodger Sherman wrote about what the impending sale means for Snyder, the Commanders, and the entire NFL.
In 1999, Dan Snyder bought Washington’s NFL team, taking control of one of the league’s oldest, most popular, and (at the time) most successful franchises. Over the next 24 years, he ran that team into the ground through personal meddling in the on-field product, an outwardly hostile relationship with local fans and media, a penny-pinching approach to management, and a series of high-profile off-field scandals. He was a bad businessperson and was particularly bad at the business of football. Washington had won three Super Bowls in the 20 years before Snyder took over; it won two playoff games in his 24 years in charge.
For his failures, Snyder will receive $6 billion.
Multiple media outlets on Thursday reported that Snyder has agreed to sell the Washington Commanders to Josh Harris, a part owner of franchises in the NBA, NHL, and Premier League. Harris also owns a stake in the Steelers (which he’ll have to sell to buy the Commanders) and last year looked into purchasing the Broncos. The Denver franchise was eventually sold for $4.65 billion in August, then a record for an American pro sports team. The Washington franchise is apparently worth 30 percent more, in spite of Snyder’s screwups and the need to build a new stadium.
The list of Snyder’s failures is too long for any one article. A quick lowlight reel: He sued a decades-long fan who tried to back out of a ticket renewal agreement; he avoided a congressional subpoena by taking to the high seas on his super-yacht; he bankrupted Six Flags; he charged fans to attend training camp; his stadium is falling apart in about 800 different ways because he’s too cheap to fix it; and he thought trading for Carson Wentz was a good idea. In the NFL Players Association’s recent player survey, the Commanders got an F in four of eight categories. More importantly, Snyder was investigated by Congress and is still being investigated by the NFL for sexual harassment and misconduct in the workplace.
The news that Snyder has agreed to sell the team is great for everybody. It’s great for Washington fans, who have been praying for this day since … oh, I don’t know, 2002 or so? It’s great for the NFL in general. It sucks to have a team that sucks. The Commanders are likely in good hands with Harris, who is wealthy and passionate and has extensive experience in pro sports. Snyder’s sale is also great for the other 31 NFL owners. It’s not just that the $6 billion price point shows that the value of pro sports teams is only climbing higher and higher and higher; it’s not just that they will see a boost to their bottom lines now that they no longer have to share money with Snyder’s perpetually poor franchise; it’s not just that they no longer have to do business with a man who, according to an October ESPN report, used private investigators to dig up dirt on them. The fact that the worst owner in American sports is able to sell the Commanders for a record price proves that buying a sports team is the safest investment any billionaire can make.
The sale also shields the other NFL owners from actually having to do the hard work of kicking Snyder out of their billionaires club. Last fall, there was talk that the NFL’s owners might take a vote to force Snyder to sell the team, with Colts owner Jim Irsay even openly advocating for a vote. It would’ve been the first time in modern sports history that a team owner had been kicked out by their fellow owners. Of course, it never happened, even though Snyder was a drain on everybody’s finances, even though Snyder’s team was a joke, and even though Snyder was under investigation by Congress. Even as NFL owners grew increasingly frustrated with Snyder, it was always hard to believe that they’d vote him out and set the precedent that an NFL team owner could lose their team against their will.
In the end, Snyder got to sell the team voluntarily—under pressure, sure, but of his own accord. The results of the NFL’s first investigation into the workplace culture in Snyder’s franchise, following multiple stories in The Washington Post detailing accounts of rampant sexual harassment across the organization, were never publicly released. A second investigation remains in progress. The better time to air out Snyder’s wrongdoing and hold him accountable for it was while he was still in charge of the team. Even if the report is made publicly available someday (and it better be), it’s hard to take power away from someone who has sold their power for $6 billion.
The news that Snyder is selling the team is great for everybody—but it’s probably best for Dan Snyder, and that’s unfortunate. This man screwed up in every possible way, publicly, for nearly 25 years, and his only punishment will be walking away with more money than anybody could possibly spend in one lifetime.