Washington Commanders owner Daniel Snyder and his attorneys have demanded that fellow NFL franchise owners and the league indemnify him against future legal liability and costs if he sells the team, two people with direct knowledge of the NFL’s inner workings and the owners’ attitudes said.
“He wants indemnification if he sells,” one of those people said, adding that the owners regard the demand as “ridiculous” and “absurd” and believe Snyder should provide indemnification to the other owners for any legal claims that may arise from his and the team’s actions.
The owners “definitely” would move toward a vote to remove Snyder from ownership of his team if he does not sell the franchise, that person said. Such a vote would require support by at least three-quarters of the owners. The other person who confirmed Snyder’s demands added that the dispute “could get messy.”
The Commanders denied the assertions in a statement Monday night: “The story posted tonight by the Washington Post regarding the transaction process involving the Washington Commanders is simply untrue.”
Snyder also is seeking for the NFL to keep confidential the findings of the ongoing investigation being conducted by attorney Mary Jo White, one of the people with knowledge of the situation said. The NFL has said the findings of White’s investigation will be released publicly. It is the league’s second investigation of the team’s workplace and Snyder.
The NFL declined to comment.
According to one of the people with knowledge of the situation, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is attempting to broker a peace deal by which Snyder would sell the Commanders and leave the NFL without further acrimony. Jones long has been considered Snyder’s closest ally among his fellow owners. The Cowboys did not respond to a request for Jones to comment.
The increase in tensions between Snyder and the league and other owners comes as Snyder entertains offers for his team. The potential buyers include Josh Harris, owner of the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers and the NHL’s New Jersey Devils; Tilman Fertitta, owner of the NBA’s Houston Rockets; and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who owns The Washington Post.
Harris has visited the Commanders’ training facility in Ashburn, two people familiar with the situation said this month. Fertitta has made a bid for the team thought to be slightly above $5.5 billion and is believed to have visited the training facility, two people with knowledge of the matter said Saturday. Bezos has hired a New York investment firm, Allen & Company, to evaluate a possible bid, two people familiar with the deliberations said last week.
Snyder is “shutting out” Bezos in the sale process to this point, a person familiar with the situation said, confirming reports by the New York Post and the Athletic. Snyder has “rebuffed every effort” by Bezos to move forward toward purchasing the team, according to that person, who said Snyder is acting “out of spite” because of Bezos’s ownership of The Post. It is not clear whether Snyder’s approach represents a final decision or posturing as part of a negotiating strategy.
The Commanders said in November that Snyder and wife Tanya, the team’s co-CEO, had hired Bank of America Securities to “consider potential transactions” for the franchise. The team has not said whether the Snyders are seeking to sell part or all of the franchise, which is valued by Forbes at an estimated $5.6 billion. The Denver Broncos were sold last year for $4.65 billion, the record price for an NFL club.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was angered by Daniel Snyder’s indemnification demand, according to one of the people with knowledge of the matter. The league and owners are prepared to fight Snyder legally if necessary, that person said, but would prefer for Jones to convince Snyder to accept a record price for his team and leave the league without a confrontation in court. The owners believe any vote they might take to remove Snyder would survive a legal challenge, according to that person.
“It just seems to get worse. … If you want to sue, fine,” that person said. “If you want to fight, we’ll fight. … [But] hopefully in the long run, through just talking to him, he’ll realize this isn’t the way to go.”
Asked what Snyder and his attorneys are seeking to be indemnified against, the person said, “Literally everything.”
A third person with knowledge of the owners’ views said Snyder’s request was objectionable but not surprising. Snyder “has a better chance” of keeping the findings of White’s investigation out of the public eye than getting the owners to agree to indemnify him, that person said, while adding that neither should be allowed to occur.
In March 2021, NFL owners approved a waiver that allowed Snyder to borrow $450 million above the league’s debt ceiling so he could resolve a conflict with his three co-owners by buying their collective 40 percent stake. Given that accommodation — which at least one owner now regrets, according to a person with knowledge of the matter — owners probably won’t bow to Snyder’s current demand of terms for selling the franchise.
The owners recently resolved their internal dispute over a different indemnification issue. They voted unanimously in October to ratify a proposal over how to divide the payment of the NFL’s $790 million settlement with St. Louis in 2021 to resolve the city’s lawsuit over the Rams’ relocation to Los Angeles in 2016. Rams owner Stan Kroenke apparently agreed to pay for the settlement and legal fees, minus the approximately $7.5 million per team that the league had withheld from the other 31 franchises to contribute toward the total.
A vote to remove an owner would be unprecedented. Jerry Richardson sold the Carolina Panthers to David Tepper in 2018 after an NFL investigation of allegations of workplace misconduct. That investigation, also conducted by White, concluded there was no information to discredit the claims made against Richardson. The NFL fined Richardson $2.75 million.
Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay said in October that he and fellow owners should give serious consideration to voting to remove Snyder from ownership, which would require the approval of at least three-fourths of the owners. Multiple owners told The Post in September that they believed serious consideration would be given to attempting to oust Snyder from the ownership ranks, either by convincing him to sell or by voting to remove him.
White’s investigation was launched in February 2022 after Tiffani Johnston, a former cheerleader and marketing manager for the team, said at a congressional roundtable 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 the allegations made directly against him “outright lies.”
The Post reported in 2020 that the team paid a former employee $1.6 million as part of a confidential settlement in 2009 after the woman accused Snyder of sexual misconduct. Snyder denied the woman’s allegations, and a team investigation accused her of fabricating her claims as part of an extortion attempt. But Snyder and the team eventually agreed to pay her a seven-figure sum as part of a settlement in which she agreed not to sue or publicly disclose her allegations.
Following a previous investigation of the team’s workplace by attorney Beth Wilkinson, the NFL announced in July 2021 that the team had been fined $10 million and that Tanya Snyder would assume responsibilities for the franchise’s day-to-day operations for an unspecified period.
The team and Daniel Snyder also are being investigated by federal authorities in the Eastern District of Virginia. The federal investigation includes multiple agencies and is focused on allegations of financial improprieties involving the team, according to people familiar with the situation.
The allegations of financial improprieties originally surfaced as part of the Democratic-led investigation of the team’s workplace by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. The Commanders have denied committing any financial wrongdoing.
Democratic leaders of the committee wrote in a 20-page letter in April that the Commanders and Snyder “may have engaged in a troubling, long-running, and potentially unlawful pattern of financial conduct” that allegedly involved withholding as much as $5 million in refundable deposits from season ticket holders and also hiding money that was supposed to be shared among NFL owners. The team has denied committing any financial improprieties at any time and has characterized the committee’s actions as politically motivated.
The office of Karl A. Racine (D), then the attorney general of D.C., filed a consumer protection lawsuit in November against the Commanders, Snyder, the NFL and Goodell, accusing them of colluding to deceive and mislead customers about an investigation of the team’s workplace to maintain its fan base in pursuit of revenue. The team and the NFL denied the allegations, and attorneys for the team said the lawsuit “repeats a lot of innuendo, half-truths and lies.”
Racine’s office filed a second lawsuit that month against the Commanders regarding refundable deposits that allegedly were not returned by the team to season ticket holders from Washington. The Commanders said a review by an outside law firm “found no evidence that the team intentionally withheld security deposits that should have been returned to customers or that the team improperly converted any unclaimed deposits to revenue.” Racine has been succeeded since then by Brian L. Schwalb (D) as attorney general.
Then-Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D) announced in November that his office’s consumer protection division reached a settlement with the Commanders over allegations that the team withheld security deposits from ticket holders. The team paid a $250,000 fine under a settlement in which it did not admit to the allegations. The settlement called for the Commanders to refund all security deposits that had not been returned to consumers.