Bethesda businessman Daniel M. Snyder and his investors became the official owners of the Washington Redskins yesterday for the record price of $800 million, concluding the turbulent sale of one of professional football's elite franchises and ending three decades of ownership under the Jack Kent Cooke family.
"I'm thrilled," Snyder said in a telephone interview. "What a great opportunity this is, a tremendous opportunity. I'm excited about the challenge ahead of us. Over the next few days we're going to celebrate, and then we'll get down to the work at hand. Our commitment is to bring winning football back to Washington."
The new ownership team includes media/real estate mogul Mortimer Zuckerman, owner of U.S. News & World Report; Zuckerman's business associate Fred Drasner, and members of Snyder's immediate family.
Snyder, 34, declined to comment about his plans for shaping the Redskins' management team. He must hire a team president. His associates repeatedly have denied a recent report that he intends to fire General Manager Charley Casserly, saying the new owners plan to restructure the team's front office, then let Casserly decide whether he wants to remain the club's general manager with a new job description.
"We have not gotten to those decisions, or any decisions regarding the management of the football team," Snyder said. "Right now, we're just in a celebratory mood. That's all we're doing. I can't say anything definitive until we take a look at the overall picture."
Casserly and Coach Norv Turner have contracts that run through the 2001 season, and Snyder announced when he completed his deal with the trustees for Cooke's estate in April that he planned to retain both. Later, he said he expects the team to end its six-season playoff drought during the upcoming season, and he plans to apply pressure to his players, coaches and front office to try to ensure that happens.
Snyder has spent hours walking through Jack Kent Cooke Stadium with marketers from his company, Snyder Communications Inc., looking for opportunities to generate more revenue from the stadium to pay the debt on his team, estimated at $300 million.
Snyder has made hundreds of millions of dollars from Snyder Communications, which he runs with his sister. The company is in the niche advertising and telemarketing business, and it has produced enormous wealth for Snyder's family and for Zuckerman and Drasner, who are investors and sit on the company's board of directors.
Yesterday's closing took place in a fourth-floor conference room at the downtown offices of Snyder's lawyers. Snyder's new holding company, Washington Football Inc., took title to the team in return for $800 million being wired to the estate of Cooke, who died in April 1997. None of the principals attended the closing, which had been approved by all 31 NFL owners May 25.
Over the next several days, the money from the sale -- expected to be around $500 million after debt and expenses -- will be distributed to former Redskins president John Kent Cooke and the estate. The younger Cooke, who recently changed his residency from the United States to Bermuda, will receive about 10 percent of the money. The estate will get the rest.
The elder Cooke ordered in his will that a foundation be created and that the proceeds from the sale of his estate be used to fund and distribute postgraduate scholarships.
The trustees put the team up for sale last September, and the auction concluded Jan. 10. New York real estate billionaire Howard Milstein was the winner with an $800 million bid, and Snyder was a member of Milstein's team.
Milstein and the NFL disagreed over financing and other issues for several months, and Milstein withdrew his bid in April after it became clear he did not have the league's support and would not win approval from the owners. Snyder then took over the bid.
A spokesman for the Redskins said yesterday John Kent Cooke could not be located to comment. Other trustees of the estate could not be reached to comment.
The trustees' lawyer, Richard Cass, said yesterday, "We're very happy that the sale of the team was closed."
CAPTION: After taking title to Redskins, Daniel M. Snyder declined to comment about plans for shaping management team.