The Washington Redskins’ lease at FedEx Field doesn’t expire for 12 years, but Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe is aggressively pushing to ensure that the team’s next stadium is built in his state, giving the commonwealth a head start over Maryland and the District.
With team executives intent on abandoning FedEx Field well before 2027, McAuliffe — a rare local Democrat not critical of the team’s controversial name — has pitched multiple sites for a stadium in Loudoun County along the unbuilt second leg of Metro’s Silver Line, according to two people with direct knowledge of the negotiations. Those people say that Virginia officials have also begun discussing infrastructure costs and legal agreements with the team.
Maryland, where the team has played for nearly two decades, has just begun its own effort to keep the Redskins, led by new Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, who proclaimed support for the team’s moniker during his campaign. Hogan said he recently pitched Redskins owner Daniel Snyder on staying in Maryland during a two-hour meeting.
Meanwhile, Redskins officials have had no meaningful stadium talks with elected leaders in the District — several of whom publicly oppose the name — since the middle of last year, according to D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2).
Redskins spokesman Maury Lane went even further, saying the team and city have had “no substantive talks for many years” on building a new stadium.
District officials’ lack of engagement has frustrated team executives because the city owns what is widely considered the ideal location: the site of RFK Stadium, where the team played before moving to Landover, Md., in 1997. The property’s 80 acres between Capitol Hill and the Anacostia River, with highway and Metro access, are far more valuable than the sites being offered by Virginia. It is unclear whether disagreement over the name would preclude a deal with District leaders. Evans, who has no problem with the moniker, certainly hopes not.
“There’s no better site in the metro region,” he said, “than the RFK site.”
For the Redskins and the team’s potential hosts, the stakes are significant. A new stadium will demand a parcel of land as large as the District’s Tidal Basin, cost up to $1 billion or more to build, and require the buy-in of local lawmakers and taxpayers — all of which is made more complicated by Snyder’s unpopularity and the debate over the team’s name, which some Native Americans say is a slur. It took the team’s last owner, the late Jack Kent Cooke, a decade of political maneuvering to locate and build a stadium that many have long hated.
Even so, landing the next venue has already touched off a jurisdictional tug of war.
“Virginia is playing stronger and smarter than the other two entities,” said a team source who has direct knowledge of the negotiations. “Maryland got started later and has a lot to put together.” And for the moment, the person added, “D.C. is not in play.”
Snyder has frequently talked of his love for RFK, which dates to games he attended as a boy with his father. Last year, the owner told Comcast Sports Network that he would like his new stadium to “feel” and “move” like RFK.
In her first State of the District address this month, Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) described the city as the nation’s sports capital, one that could perhaps host “a Super Bowl one Sunday.”
She was an ardent backer of the 2024 Olympic Summer Games effort, which envisioned a stadium that could have become a permanent home for the Redskins or for Ted Leonsis’s Monumental Sports and Entertainment, owner of the Capitals, Wizards and Mystics teams as well as Verizon Center.
But when asked in February whether she would require the football team to change its name before allowing a new stadium to be built in the District, Bowser said: “I think so. I think I’ve called on them — just like a lot of people around the city — to change the name.”
Snyder, who insists that the moniker honors Native Americans, has vowed never to change it — and is being courted by two pro-business governors who don’t object to his stance.
McAuliffe spokesman Brian Coy declined to comment on the stadium but said the governor would not ask the team to change its name: “His position is it’s not his responsibility or place to tell a private business what it should or should not call itself.”
Although the Redskins play in Maryland and their ideal site may be in the District, Virginia has some advantages. The team is headquartered in Ashburn, its training camp is in Richmond and most of its players live in Northern Virginia. Last fall, Snyder gave a $25,000 donation to McAuliffe’s campaign and $25,000 to the governor’s political action committee, according to public records.
People familiar with McAuliffe’s efforts say the governor — with less than three years remaining in office — considers the new stadium a major gubernatorial legacy item.
McAuliffe and other Virginia lawmakers discussed a potential new stadium with Redskins President Bruce Allen when he and cornerback DeAngelo Hall visited Richmond in February, according to a team source with direct knowledge of the meetings.
In recent months, McAuliffe has also personally asked economic development officials in Northern Virginia to suggest potential stadium sites. His office requested that Fairfax County provide locations that are at least 100 acres and within a mile of the Beltway — something not easily found.
But in Loudoun, two Silver Line stations are planned for beyond Dulles International Airport, each with hundreds of acres of undeveloped land in close proximity. “The stadium is definitely of interest to the governor,” said Loudoun Economic Development Director Buddy Rizer. “We do have sites that, in our opinion, would be very interesting for this project.”
If the three newest NFL stadiums are any indication, the Redskins’ new venue could cost hundreds of millions of dollars: The Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium (built in 2009) cost about $1.2 billion; the New York Giants’ MetLife Stadium (2010) cost $1.6 billion; and the San Francisco 49ers’ Levi’s Stadium (2014) cost $1.2 billion.
In Prince George’s County, home to FedEx Field, County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) has placed his focus on other economic development initiatives, among them landing a new FBI headquarters, opening the MGM resort and casino at National Harbor, and building a regional hospital in Largo.
The Redskins “are valued. And we have a 30-year lease with them at FedEx Field,” said David S. Iannucci, a top economic development aide to Baker. He declined to say whether the county, which earns about $1 million per game through the lease, had any future plans for the team.
Still, when Hogan came to office, the state’s relationship with the team changed. His predecessor, Martin O’Malley (D), had called for a new name.
Hogan described his two-hour meeting with Snyder as “very productive,” although the governor acknowledged that the Redskins owner did not specifically say he wanted to stay in Maryland.
“We would love to keep two NFL teams in Maryland. It’s a big economic development driver,” he said. “We’re going to fight for them.”
Should the Redskins again shun the District, or vice versa, Bowser risks negative comparisons to Sharon Pratt, the mayor when the team left. But even if Bowser and Snyder came to terms on the name, it is not guaranteed that the D.C. Council or the communities around RFK would approve a stadium deal.
The area’s newly elected council member, Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), said he did not think a stadium was the best option for perhaps the most valuable development site in the city.
“Creating something that’s only going to be used eight days of the year and that is going to require a really large amount of parking is a poor use of such an amazing space along the Anacostia River,” said Allen, who donated all of his team garb to Goodwill two years ago after learning that some people found the name offensive.
“At this point, I don’t think we’ll be inclined to support it,” Denise Krepp, an advisory neighborhood commissioner near RFK, said in an e-mail. “The Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon was a debacle a couple of weeks ago. Public urination in the streets, trash coated our yards, and the Metro was backed up for 45 minutes.”
Despite Virginia’s early lead, the new stadium’s ultimate destination is far from certain. Consider what it took for the team to move from RFK to FedEx Field.
Cooke first said he wanted a new stadium in 1987 — 10 years before the team played its initial game in Landover.
In 1991, Cooke said it was “almost a given” he would build the stadium in the District. In the years that followed, it appeared all but certain that Cooke would erect his new stadium in Fairfax; then again in Washington; then in Anne Arundel County; and yet again in Washington. Not until February 1996 did the Prince George’s County Council approve Cooke’s plan to build a 78,600-seat, $250 million arena in Landover.
Five months before the Redskins played their first game at Jack Kent Cooke Stadium, the owner died.
Jenna Johnson, Joe Heim, Laura Vozzella and Rosalind S. Helderman contributed to this report.