Washington Commanders owner Daniel Snyder opened the door to selling his NFL franchise Wednesday, announcing that he and his wife, Tanya, enlisted a major investment bank to “consider potential transactions” related to the team.
The announcement arrives after a tumultuous two-plus years for the franchise, which began with the retirement of its longtime controversial name, included multiple investigations into allegations of workplace harassment and financial improprieties against Daniel Snyder and other former team executives and extended into the most recent home game, during which fans booed a video of Tanya Snyder and chanted, “Sell the team!”
Daniel Snyder has denied any allegations directly against him, and the team repeatedly has pledged its commitment to “a cultural transformation.” But the possibility of any change in ownership status had not been suggested publicly before Wednesday.
“Dan and Tanya Snyder and the Washington Commanders announced today that they have hired BofA Securities to consider potential transactions,” the Commanders said in their statement. “The Snyders remain committed to the team, all of its employees and its countless fans to putting the best product on the field and continuing the work to set the gold standard for workplaces in the NFL.”
While a sale of the team is only one of the possibilities, it may be the most viable option.
As the recent sale of the Denver Broncos demonstrated, interest among wealthy individuals and corporations in owning an NFL franchise remains extremely high given the rapidly escalating values of franchises, but the pool of buyers for a minority stake is small for the same reason. A 40 percent stake in the Commanders could cost as much as $1.8 billion, based on a 20 percent discount because it would include no decision-making authority. Snyder’s history of conflict and litigation with his business partners and top executives probably would be another consideration for potential investors.
Moreover, any potential transaction would require approval of three-quarters of the other team owners, league spokesman Brian McCarthy said in a statement Wednesday. And such a vote would take place at a time when Snyder faces intense scrutiny from his peers, amid probes by the NFL, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform and the attorneys general of D.C. and Virginia.
In 1999, Daniel Snyder led a group of investors that purchased the team and its stadium for $800 million from the Jack Kent Cooke estate. Forbes estimated in August that the Commanders are worth $5.6 billion. In March 2021, Snyder bought out his three limited partners — Dwight Schar, Fred Smith and Robert Rothman, who collectively owned about 40 percent of the franchise — for $875 million. That transaction required his 31 fellow owners to grant him a waiver to take on an additional $450 million in debt, a debt he must repay by 2028 if he remains owner.
The NFL declined to comment further Wednesday on the prospective transaction. In March, NFL owners approved a resolution endorsing diversity in franchise ownership.
Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay has said in recent weeks that he and fellow NFL team owners should give serious consideration to voting to remove Snyder from ownership of the Commanders.
“I assume we’re going to get into more and more discussion on that,” Irsay said last month, speaking to reporters at an owners’ meeting in New York. “It’s a difficult situation. I believe that there’s merit to remove him as owner of the [Commanders]. I think it’s something that we have to review. We have to look at all the evidence, and we have to be thorough in going forward. But I think it’s something that has to be given serious consideration to.”
Irsay expanded on his comments in a phone interview Friday: “I’m not sure how that report’s going to come out. But what already has come out is extremely disturbing, and I disagree with the process. And I most likely disagree that we haven’t discussed something more severe such as him being removed as owner. As I said, it’s not something that I’m saying we should do. I’m saying it’s something that has to be given serious consideration.”
It would require a vote of at least three-quarters of the owners to remove Snyder from ownership. Multiple owners told The Washington Post in September they believe serious consideration may be given to attempting to oust Snyder from the league’s ownership ranks, either by convincing him to sell his franchise or by voting to remove him.
“He needs to sell,” one of those owners said then. “Some of us need to go to him and tell him that he needs to sell.”
It was not immediately clear Wednesday whether any owners urged Snyder to sell.
“I think there will be a movement,” the same owner said in September. “We need to get 24 votes.”
That owner said then that the NFL and owners “need to have it happen like the NBA just had,” in reference to Robert Sarver, the owner of the NBA’s Phoenix Suns and the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury. The NBA suspended Sarver for one year and fined him $10 million after an investigation found that he had used racial epithets and treated female employees by a different standard than their male counterparts, among other violations of that league’s policies. Sarver announced in September that he had begun the process of seeking buyers for the two franchises.
The NFL’s current investigation is being conducted by attorney Mary Jo White.
“Mary Jo White is continuing her review,” McCarthy said Wednesday. “We have no update on a timeline.”
The league launched White’s investigation after Tiffani Johnston, a former cheerleader and marketing manager for the team, said at a congressional roundtable in February that Snyder harassed her at a team dinner, putting his hand on her thigh and pressing her toward his limo. Snyder denied the accusations, calling them “outright lies.”
In June, The Post reported details of an employee’s claim that Snyder sexually assaulted her during a flight on his private plane in April 2009. Later that year, the team agreed to pay the employee, whom it fired, $1.6 million in a confidential settlement. In a 2020 court filing, Snyder called the woman’s claims “meritless.”
Investigators for the U.S. attorney’s office for the Eastern District of Virginia interviewed witnesses about allegations of financial improprieties involving the team, people familiar with the situation said Wednesday. That office declined to comment. ESPN reported Wednesday that a criminal investigation was opened.
“The Washington Commanders have fully cooperated with federal and state investigators since the House Oversight Review Committee sent its letter to the FTC on April 12, 2022 — now nearly [seven] months ago,” John Brownlee, an attorney for the team, said in a statement released by the Commanders. “The team has produced tens of thousands of records in response to the requests.
“The investigations, which ESPN’s anonymous sources have mischaracterized, are premised on the same baseless allegations made by a disgruntled former employee, Jason Friedman, who also is represented by the law firm of Katz Banks. We are confident that, after these agencies have had a chance to review the documents and complete their work, they will come to the same conclusion as the team’s internal review — that these allegations are simply untrue.”
In April, the House committee detailed allegations of financial improprieties by Snyder and the team in a letter to the Federal Trade Commission. Karl A. Racine, the District’s Democratic attorney general, and Virginia’s Republican attorney general, Jason S. Miyares, announced they would investigate. The team has denied committing any financial improprieties.
Racine’s office has nearly completed its investigation and is planning to take further action in the case, a person familiar with that investigation said last month.
“Today’s news that Dan and Tanya Snyder are exploring selling the Washington Commanders is a good development for the team, its former and current employees, and its many fans,” attorneys Lisa Banks and Debra Katz, who represent more than 40 former team employees, said in a statement Wednesday. “We will have to see how this unfolds, but this could obviously be a big step towards healing and closure for the many brave women and men who came forward.”
The NFL has not said when White’s investigation will be completed. The league has said that White’s report, unlike the findings of a previous investigation of the team’s workplace conducted by attorney Beth Wilkinson, will be released publicly.
The House committee is expected to release its findings in the coming weeks. Daniel Snyder participated remotely in a sworn deposition with the committee for more than 10 hours in July. Former team president Bruce Allen gave a deposition remotely for about 10 hours under subpoena in September.
Wednesday’s announcement also comes with negotiations for public financing for a potential new Commanders stadium stalled. The state legislator who led efforts to lure the Commanders to Virginia said in June those attempts had been halted. State Senate Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax) said then: “There were just so many things out there that a lot of people are saying, ‘Saslaw, this thing needs to wait.’ ”
Before Wednesday, the Commanders had said that Snyder would not sell the team. Following Irsay’s original public comments, a team spokesperson said, “We are confident that, when he has an opportunity to see the actual evidence in this case, Mr. Irsay will conclude that there is no reason for the Snyders to consider selling the franchise. And they won’t.”