NFL’s Commanders reportedly sold for $6B, with Magic Johnson as partner
In addition to Johnson, billionaire Mitchell Rales, co-founder of the Danaher Corp., and a group of other limited partners are part of Josh Harris' latest pro sports enterprise.
The Washington Commanders reportedly have been sold for $6 billion, a record amount, and the deal involves Earvin “Magic” Johnson as a partner.
According to The New York Times, Josh Harris, an owner of the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers and the NHL’s New Jersey Devils, has consented in principle to buy the team from longtime owner Dan Snyder.
Harris is the head of Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment, the investment group that resurrected the 76ers and the Devils. Along with being the founder of global private equity company Apollo Global Management, Harris has business ventures that include holding a minority stake in the Pittsburgh Steelers, which he would have to sell as a condition of purchasing the Commanders.
The NFL’s finance committee and at least three-quarters of the other 31 team owners, who will convene in person in Minneapolis on May 22 and 23, still need to approve the transaction, The Times reported.
In addition to Johnson, billionaire Mitchell Rales, a co-founder of the Maryland-based Danaher Corp., and a group of other limited partners are part of Harris’ latest enterprise.
Johnson’s recruitment will likely please other NFL owners, who said in a statement last March that they “regard it as a positive and meaningful factor” for potential ownership parties to “include diverse individuals who would have a significant equity stake in and involvement with the club.”
The agreement comes as the league carries out its second investigation into possible financial irregularities and allegations of rampant sexual harassment made against team leaders, including Snyder, just after the Washington NFL squad agreed to no longer call itself the Redskins, a name considered offensive to Native Americans.
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Lisa Banks and Debra Katz, lawyers for more than 40 former team employees who filed allegations of workplace violations, said in a joint statement Thursday about reports of the sale that “today marks the end of a long, difficult chapter for all employees and fans of the Washington football organization,” according to The Times.
Numerous owners of the league’s other teams considered voting to force Snyder to sell the franchise, which he had acquired in 1999 for $800 million, in light of the accusations, his inability to construct a new stadium in place of the dilapidating FedEx Field and public reaction.
“We are proud of our many clients who made this moment possible,” Banks and Katz added, “the brave women and men who came forward repeatedly and at great personal risk to expose the decades of sexual harassment and financial wrongdoing at the team.”
Snyder and his wife, Tanya, also a co-owner, began looking for a buyer for the team in November 2022. They started accepting proposals just a few weeks after Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay said Snyder “needs to be removed.”
An investigation by the NFL revealed that Snyder did nothing to curb the team’s chronic culture of sexual harassment that managers and executives fostered for over a decade. As a result, in July 2021, the league imposed a record $10 million fine on the franchise and mandated that Snyder abstain from team business.
Under Snyder, the Commanders had winning records in only six of their 24 regular seasons and only two postseason games. Despite routinely playing to sold-out crowds in the 1980s and 1990s, the team’s home attendance in recent years has been among the lowest in the NFL due to the team’s losses and its aging stadium.
Still, Forbes ranked the Commanders as the ninth most valuable club in sports in 2022, partly due to the NFL’s revenue-sharing system and the windfall of football’s media rights agreements.
Every club must have a major owner who owns at least 30 percent of the franchise, meaning Harris — who reportedly has a $6 billion net worth — would need to raise at least $1.8 billion on his own to meet the NFL’s requirement.
Harris outbid Tilman J. Fertitta, owner of the Houston Rockets, who reportedly offered $5.6 billion for the Commanders. Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos was said to be interested in buying the team, though it does not appear he made an offer.
Washington Commanders president Jason Wright said last month that the team had improved its deteriorating finances following years of falling ticket and sponsorship sales, making it more appealing to possible buyers.
“There will be people that come to partner with us that were unwilling to partner with us before,” Wright said, The Times reported, “not necessarily because of ownership from a personal standpoint, but because of things that were said about the organization in the past.”
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