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Billionaire Mitchell Rales joins Josh Harris’s bid to buy the Commanders

Mitchell Rales and his wife, Emily, in the Glenstone Museum in Potomac, which they own and operate. (Goran Kosanovic/For The Washington Post)
5 min

Mitchell Rales, a Potomac, Md., billionaire who is a co-founder of Danaher Corp., joined the Josh Harris-led bid to buy the Washington Commanders from Daniel Snyder, a person with knowledge of the deliberations said Thursday.

The addition of Rales, whose net worth Forbes estimates at $5.6 billion, strengthens the group’s bid in multiple ways as Snyder considers a possible sale.

Rales’s net worth places him among the D.C. area’s richest billionaires. His participation not only adds to the Harris group’s financial heft but also adds a strong local tie that would be an asset to a new ownership group.

While he keeps a low public profile, Rales is well known in business circles for co-founding D.C.-based Danaher Corp., a Fortune 500 company. He is also well known in the art world as a collector of modern and contemporary art, which is displayed at Glenstone, a private art museum he founded on a 230-acre expanse in Potomac, curated by his wife, art historian Emily Wei Rales.

Snyder is believed to be seeking more than $6 billion for the franchise, which would set an NFL record.

Every NFL team’s sales price matters greatly to the league’s other team owners, who must approve each sale by a three-quarters margin (24 votes). But in vetting potential transactions, the league also heavily weighs the structure of the offer, favoring deals that carry less debt and buyers with deep pockets — wealth well beyond the amount they’re investing in the team.

NFL owners discuss Commanders sale, Daniel Snyder at committee meeting

The Harris group is one of three known potential buyers. Harris, owner of the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers and the NHL’s New Jersey Devils, grew up in Chevy Chase and attended the Field School in Northwest Washington. He is the co-founder of Apollo Global Management and is a general partner of the English Premier League’s Crystal Palace Football Club. Harris has an estimated net worth of $6.2 billion, according to Forbes.

Harris visited the Commanders’ training facility in Ashburn as part of the bidding process, two people familiar with the situation said.

It’s unclear how much capital Rales has pledged to the bid or what percentage of the Commanders he would own in the Harris bid. The Harris group declined to comment through a spokesman regarding Rales’s involvement. The addition of Rales to Harris’s bid was first reported by ESPN.

A Pittsburgh native, Rales was reared in Bethesda, like Harris, and is a 1974 graduate of Walt Whitman High School, where he was captain of the football and baseball teams.

With his older brother Steven, Rales also launched Washington’s first sports-talk radio station, WTEM, in 1992.

Rales addressed his philanthropy in a 2018 interview with The Washington Post, saying, “When we go, there’s not going to be money bestowed on children and grandchildren in any meaningful way. This is about reallocating the money we had the good fortune of making to other causes.”

Snyder and the Commanders have communicated to the NFL’s team owners that there are “multiple bidders” for the franchise whom the owners and the league will “love” and that the sales price “is looking good,” a person familiar with the NFL’s inner workings and the views of the owners said this week. But some owners remain wary that the sale will be completed because Snyder wants to be indemnified against future legal liability and costs by either the buyer or fellow NFL team owners and the league, that person said.

Other owners, however, emerged from two days of committee meetings this week in Palm Beach, Fla., hopeful that Snyder will agree to sell the Commanders without further rancor with the owners and the NFL, multiple people who attended those meetings said.

Josh Harris, potential Commanders buyer, visits team’s training facility

Snyder’s wife, Tanya, the team’s co-CEO, attended the meetings in Palm Beach, according to two attendees. She participated in the meetings of those committees to which she is assigned. There was no indication that she discussed the potential sale or other issues related to her husband. The NFL is conducting its second investigation of Daniel Snyder and the team. This one is being led by attorney Mary Jo White.

The owners made no decisions at the Palm Beach meetings regarding a potential vote to force Snyder to sell his team, three people with knowledge of the owners’ discussions said. Such a move would require the approval of at least three-quarters of the owners.

The Commanders announced in November that the Snyders hired Bank of America Securities to consider potential transactions for the franchise. The team has not said whether the Snyders intend to sell all or part of the franchise. Forbes estimated the value of the Commanders last year at $5.6 billion. The record sale price for an NFL team is the $4.65 billion that a group led by Walmart heir Rob Walton paid last year for the Denver Broncos.

Other potential buyers of the Commanders include Tilman Fertitta, the owner of the NBA’s Houston Rockets, and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. Snyder has prevented Bezos, who owns The Post, from entering the bidding process, a person familiar with the situation said last week, out of “spite” based on The Post’s coverage of Snyder and the team. It was not clear, that person said, whether Snyder eventually will relent and allow Bezos to purchase the team if he makes the highest bid.