If Snyder has lost the city, is there anything the city can do to lose Snyder? Owners are too powerful and, these days, have more than enough money to fend off nearly all efforts to get rid of them, short of a league realizing an owner’s racist buffoonery is bad for business, as the NBA did with Donald Sterling, the former owner of the Los Angeles Clippers. But if the District wants to shake Snyder, here’s how it could try.
The most realistic path to getting rid of an owner is to make his or her life miserable and affect the team’s bottom line. If a team becomes a liability to the league — again, see Sterling — that can make other owners inclined to force someone out. The bar to becoming a drag on a whole league is very high, though. And bad ticket sales alone aren’t enough to ratchet up pressure, thanks to the massive amounts of TV money that big American sports leagues, and particularly the NFL, bring in.
However, a model ouster recently occurred with the Columbus Crew, the Major League Soccer team in Ohio whose now- former owner, Anthony Precourt, wanted to move the team to Austin. Between fan protests, the ubiquitous (at least in soccer circles) #SaveTheCrew hashtag, and Ohio’s attorney general threatening to sue under a law passed in the wake of the Cleveland Browns’ departure to Baltimore, Precourt was convinced to sell instead.
The tolerance for bad publicity in the NFL is vastly higher. Also, Precourt was awarded a new Austin franchise, so arguably everyone got what they wanted anyway. Precourt and Sterling may be the exceptions that prove the rule, but they are the best recent examples of owners being shown the door.
Another pressure point is owners’ demands for new stadiums. When the District’s rotting and soon-to-be-wrecked RFK Stadium was first built, the federal government, which owns the land on which the stadium sits, said Washington’s football team couldn’t play there until it integrated what was then the last segregated team in the NFL. If the District manages to navigate the labyrinthine path to acquiring that same land — or if the federal government decides to apply leverage — the city could try a similar play today: Build a stadium and say Snyder’s team can only use it if he sells, or at least cedes day-to-day control of the franchise.
Finally, taxpayer-funded stadiums are disastrous boondoggles, so if the city is going to consider one, why not go really big and just buy the team outright? The price would be in the billions of dollars, the questions afterward never-ending — should fans really have to pay for tickets to a team they already paid to acquire? — and the NFL’s constitution bans nonprofit ownership, but hey, if all that could be navigated, Snyder would be out the door.
A public-ownership option makes more sense for teams with much lower franchise values, where the price of keeping a team in town via handouts for a new stadium actually does exceed the cost of just buying it up. There’s zero chance this happens with Snyder, but it would be wild to watch his reaction should the city even try.
Again, it’s very unlikely Snyder sells before he wants to sell, short of there being some large undiscovered skeleton in his closet. So the best a D.C. sports fans can likely do is remember this: Your favorite sports team will never love you back, so it’s okay to break up with it if you want.