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  •   Snyder Approved as New Owner of Redskins

    Daniel Snyder, TWP
    Daniel M. Snyder, left, is greeted by NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue after Snyder's purchase of the Redskins was approved. (John McDonnell — The Washington Post)
    By Leonard Shapiro and Mark Maske
    Washington Post Staff Writers
    Wednesday, May 26, 1999; Page A1

    ATLANTA, May 25—National Football League owners voted unanimously today to approve the sale of the Washington Redskins and Jack Kent Cooke Stadium to a group headed by Daniel M. Snyder for $800 million -- a record price for a U.S. sports franchise.

    By a margin of 31-0, the league ended an arduous and often bitter nine-month sale process conducted by trustees for the estate of late team owner Jack Kent Cooke. It also allowed Snyder, 34, a lifelong Washingtonian, to complete what he described as "an unbelievable journey" that fulfilled "a lifelong dream."

    Buying the Redskins is "the most wonderful thing that's ever happened to me," said Snyder, a Bethesda marketing executive. "I'm a fan, a huge fan. It's that simple."

    "I'm not focused on the money, I'm focused on the opportunity and the dream. . . . Hundreds of fans have written to me with their support and suggestions. . . . Your most pressing issue is no different than mine. You want to win, we want to win, and we're going to deliver that."

    The Redskins' vote, ending 25 years of majority ownership of the team by the Cooke family, was officially cast by General Manager Charley Casserly, who was invited into the meeting at an Atlanta hotel at 10:12 a.m. Two minutes later, Snyder, minority partner Fred Drasner and Synder's attorney Tom McCormick were ushered into the meeting room and informed the sale had been approved.

    Snyder will invest about $120 million in cash, with family members adding another $90 million and Drasner and minority partner Mort Zuckerman, the Boston real estate and publishing magnate, putting up $90 million. Zuckerman and Drasner have known Snyder since the mid-1980s and were original investors in Snyder Communications, his Bethesda-based business with revenue approaching $1 billion a year.

    Snyder, who briefly addressed the owners this morning, was allowed to remain in the meeting. He sat next to Casserly for the rest of the morning session and was present for the afternoon business meeting.

    Snyder will not have a vote as an owner until the sale is finalized by the trustees of the Cooke Foundation, most likely by the end of June. He also technically is prohibited from conducting business as the team owner until the closing, but sources indicated that he will begin studying the team's business operations and making plans to implement possible changes before the final settlement.

    At a midday news conference, NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue introduced Snyder as "the perfect person to pick up the [Cooke] legacy and run with it. Dan Snyder has proved his mettle in the business world at a young age, and he's a passionate NFL fan and Redskins fan."

    Snyder, who made his $500 million fortune in marketing and advertising, said he will strongly consider selling naming rights to the stadium. He said he will not change the name of the team, which is offensive to Native Americans and other people. He also pledged his ownership would provide "a new energy" at Redskin Park and in the stadium.

    With his wife, Tanya, standing in back of the interview room, Snyder thanked her, the NFL owners, Redskins employees and fans, and the Cooke family.

    "It's because of their [Cooke] stewardship that the Redskins have become such a storied franchise," he said. "We really appreciate everything they've done and we hope to continue with that."

    Among Snyder's duties will be to name a new team president, though he said no decisions have been made. Sources close to Snyder said he will seek a person with both a business and football background to oversee the franchise on a day-to-day basis. Former Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula and former Carolina Panthers president Mike McCormack -- both in the Pro Football Hall of Fame -- are among a number of names on a preliminary list of potential candidates, but have not been contacted.

    Snyder takes over a team that finished 6-10 and missed the playoffs last year for the sixth consecutive season. Still, he said he had high hopes.

    "The Redskins are in a rebuilding phase," said Snyder, the youngest owner in the league. "We just had what everyone agrees was a great draft. . . . In my dreams, we'd win the Super Bowl next year. In truth, I hope and I'd like that to happen. However, in the coming year, you'll find there's a new energy at Redskin Park. You'll feel that energy in the stadium. That's my pledge. That's my obligation."

    Snyder spoke to the owners briefly this morning and answered several questions from the floor, including a query about his relationship with New York financier Howard Milstein, his former partner. Milstein's attempt to purchase the team ended on April 7 when he withdrew his $800 million bid in the face of opposition from league owners, some of whom were concerned about the financial structure of his deal and whether he would be a cooperative partner.

    Snyder, Milstein's minority partner, told the owners he had no financial relationship with Milstein, but said during his news conference he still considered him a friend and wished him well.

    On May 17, Milstein filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging that Redskins President John Kent Cooke and Casserly conspired to derail his bid to buy the team. He is seeking unspecified damages.

    Cooke declined to comment on the sale to Snyder, but issued a statement: "This has been a long goodbye. As disappointing as it has been, it has also been very gratifying to hear how much my family has meant to the National Football League and Redskins fans. Dad would have been as overwhelmed as I am. Thank you to all. Hail to the great Redskins fans!"

    Under terms of his father's will, John Cooke, who twice bid unsuccessfully for the team, will inherit about 10 percent of the sale price, minus expenses, and might get as much as $60 million from the transaction. Proceeds from the sale will be used to set up a charitable trust to provide scholarships for postgraduate students.

    Snyder will contact Cooke shortly about making an orderly ownership transition and was planning to visit Redskin Park later this week to address team employees and players.

    Snyder has said Casserly and Coach Norv Turner, both under contract through 2001, will keep their jobs for the 1999 season. He met with both men after arriving here Monday night. He also recently wrote to team employees indicating they all will keep their jobs and thanked them today for enduring "an anxious and unsettling time."

    "I think Dan is committed to winning and he's committed to doing things the right way," Casserly said. "This is what he expressed to me. His enthusiasm for the Redskins and his desire to succeed will be contagious when people meet him. He has a very good knowledge of the Redskins."

    Richard Cass, an attorney for the trustees, was at the hotel this morning when the vote was taken.

    "We're delighted the NFL has approved Dan Snyder as the controlling owner and we look forward to completing the sale as soon as possible," he said.

    NFL owners seemed mostly relieved to get the Redskins sale behind them, and publicly welcomed their new partner. New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson, a leading opponent of Milstein's financing plan because he thought it contained too much debt, indicated he had no reservations about Snyder.

    "Financially he's got it structured very strong," said Benson, a member of the eight-member finance committee that unanimously recommended the sale last Wednesday. "He's got good partners and they put up a lot of up-front money. If there's a problem with revenues, they've said they're prepared to step in if they have to. He impresses me as a team player. He knows our rules and regulations. Once he grasped what we wanted, he went out and got it done. He's going to be a good partner for us."

    Finance committee chairman Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, described Snyder as "passionate about the game. You don't have to worry that the new steward of the franchise has anything on his mind but winning. A unanimous vote doesn't happen very often in this league. I have a bias for owners who are passionate and will put winning on the field above everything else."

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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