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Finance

NFL owners approve record Commanders takeover

FedExField in Summerfield, USA

NFL owners have unanimously approved the record sale of the Washington Commanders to a group led by Josh Harris, founder and managing general partner of Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment (HBSE), with the franchise’s new owners set to have the team’s stadium situation as a priority task.

The announcement yesterday (Thursday) is set to end the unpopular reign of Dan Snyder in what will be a $6.05bn (£4.7bn/€5.44bn) transaction – a record fee for a North American sports team. Harris’ investment group also includes HBSE co-founder and co-managing partner David Blitzer, with whom Harris co-owns the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers and NHL’s New Jersey Devils, Washington-area businessman Mitchell Rales and more than a dozen others.

The $6.05bn price tag surpasses the $4.65bn the Walton-Penner family paid for the Denver Broncos in August last year. The Commanders deal is expected to formally close shortly and Harris said in a statement: “As a lifelong Washington football fan who grew up in the DMV, I know that the Commanders are more than just a sports team. This is an institution, passed down from generation to generation.

“From day one, it is our top priority to deliver you a championship calibre team, and we will strive every day to ensure that we are a franchise you can be proud of. To Commanders fans everywhere, our promise is simple: we will do the work, create the culture and make the investment needed to deliver for this team and for Washington.”

Yesterday’s announcement came after Tanya and Dan Snyder, co-owners of the Commanders, confirmed in May that an agreement had been reached to sell the franchise to a group led by Harris.

Dan Snyder has owned the team since 1999, paying a then NFL record fee of $800m, and had retained Bank of America Securities to explore a potential sale of the franchise.

The Commanders, one of the NFL’s most historic franchises, has endured a troubled time under Snyder’s watch. Indeed, yesterday’s takeover approval was followed by the NFL releasing the findings of the independent investigation led by former U.S. Attorney and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) chair Mary Jo White into allegations of misconduct and financial improprieties made by former employees of the team.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell appointed White as the independent investigator immediately following allegations against Snyder made by former Commanders employee Tiffani Johnston at a Congressional roundtable in February 2022.

Goodell expanded White’s review in April 2022 to include alleged financial misconduct at the club, after those allegations were first raised before a Congressional committee. Following the conclusion of the probe, Snyder will pay $60m to the league in resolution of White’s findings and all outstanding matters.

Commenting on the future of the Commanders, Goodell said: “Josh will be a great addition to the NFL. He has a remarkable record in business, sports, and in his communities. The diverse group that Josh has put together is outstanding for its business acumen and strong Washington ties and we welcome them to the NFL as well.

“I met Josh several years ago, prior to his acquisition of an interest in the (Pittsburgh) Steelers and have been fortunate to get to know him better over the past few months. I know he has a commitment to winning on the field, but also to running an organisation that everyone will be proud of – and to making positive contributions in the community.”

The Commanders woes off the pitch also extended to on the field. These combined failings have seen a team that led the NFL in average attendance as recently as 2008, with 88,604 per home game, fall to second-to-last in 2021 and bottom of the table last season.

Once having a seating capacity of 91,000, FedExField has since shrunk to 62,249, but last season’s average gate of 58,106 meant the Commanders were the only team to register attendance relative to capacity of below 90% (85.9%).

The Commanders stadium situation is widely acknowledged to be one that needs improvement, with James Comer, the chairman of the influential congressional committee that oversees Washington, D.C., this month reported to be preparing to introduce legislation that could enable the District to build a new facility.

The legislation could allow a new stadium or another mixed-use development to be built at the site of RFK Stadium, boosting Mayor Muriel Bowser’s efforts to lure the team back to the city. The franchise has played at FedExField in Maryland, some five miles east of Washington, D.C., since 1997. Before then, RFK Stadium was its home for 35 years.

Maryland and Virginia are also hoping to win the battle to secure the Commanders, with the team having a deal to play at FedExField until September 2027. Harris said yesterday: “It’s going to take a while to unpack what really makes sense. As far as RFK goes, I understand it’s the spiritual home of the history of the Commanders.”