The owners of 31 other NFL teams unanimously agreed to sell the Washington Chiefs to a group led by private billionaire Josh Harris, who agreed to pay a record $6.05 billion to scandal-plagued team owner Daniel Snyder.
The figure surpassed the previous highest price paid by a US sports team, the $4.65 billion paid by a group led by Wal-Mart heir Rob Walton last year for the Denver Broncos. The Leaders’ deal is expected to formally close early Friday. Snyder bought the team in 1999 for $800 million.
“Josh would be a wonderful addition to the NFL,” Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement announcing the vote, adding, “I know he has a commitment to winning on the field, but also to running an organization that everyone will be proud of — and making positive contributions to the community.”
The vote, which took place at an ad hoc one-day meeting in Minneapolis, would allow Harris and his group to take control of one of the league’s core franchises, which under Snyder has endured years of on-field losses and bouts of chaos. Harris has a proven track record of improving the standings of the other professional teams he owns, the Philadelphia 76ers of the NBA and the New Jersey Devils of the NHL
Harris and his group will focus on improving the team’s tattered image and exploring options to repair or replace FedEx Field, the team’s home since 1997. The franchise has land in Maryland and Virginia, the site of its training facility. But many NFL team owners would prefer that the Chiefs build a new stadium in the District of Columbia, where the team has played for most of its history.
“This privilege is part of who I am and who I am as a person,” Harris said, noting that he grew up rooting for the team in nearby Chevy Chase, Maryland. “There is a new era of football in Washington.”
Harris and his investment group, which includes real estate mogul Mitchell Rales and retired NBA star Magic Johnson, will have their hands full. During Snyder’s 24-year tenure, the team made the postseason only six times, winning two playoff games. The once-dominant franchise, which won three Super Bowl titles in the 1980s and 1990s, has seen attendance drop to league lows as losses mount, its stadium deteriorates and its owner alienates fans and sponsors with his brashness.
Almost from the moment he bought the Washington franchise in 1999, Snyder has confronted league chiefs and fellow owners over his salary cap violation and his insistence that the team keep the original name and logo the franchise had when it moved to Washington, even though many Native American groups deemed it racist. The team changed its name to the Leaders in 2020.
In 2020, the NFL also launched an investigation into reports of widespread sexual harassment at the team’s offices. After investigating the allegations, Goodell fined the team $10 million, but, under pressure from Snyder, did not release the league’s results. The decision prompted members of Congress to launch their own investigation, which exposed more allegations of harassment and financial fraud.
In a 79-page report, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform said Snyder, with the help of the NFL and Jodel, suppressed evidence that he and other team executives sexually harassed women who worked on the team over two decades.
The commission said Snyder made extraordinary efforts to disrupt investigations of him and his team. The report said the efforts included his attempt to pay former employees not to discuss their experiences, refusing to release one woman from a non-disclosure agreement after settling a sexual misconduct lawsuit against Snyder for $1.6 million, and using private investigators and leaked emails to intimidate former employees and decline interview requests.
The league hired Mary Jo White, a former federal prosecutor, to look into allegations exposed by the commission. White’s report was released after the university approved the sale.
In her 17-month investigation of the team, White found that Snyder sexually harassed a woman who was a former cheerleader and marketing employee for the team, and substantiated allegations that the team intentionally withheld $11 million in revenue that was supposed to be shared among the league’s 32 teams.
The investigation could not conclude or rule out that Snyder directed or participated in revenue protection, but “at the very least, he was aware of certain efforts to reduce revenue sharing.”
The league fined Snyder a record $60 million.
Snyder asked the NFL to indemnify him from liability in pending and potential future legal disputes, but he received no such protection.
For years, Snyder controlled a majority stake with a small group of relatives and friends, as well as three select partners, including FedEx president Fred Smith, who together owned the remaining 40 percent of the club. In 2020, the partners accused Snyder of mismanaging the team’s finances. Sneijder accused them of leaking damaging information about him and the team’s toxic work culture as a means of forcing the sale of the club.
Other NFL team owners, hoping to bury the messy dispute, granted Snyder a waiver to take on hundreds of millions of dollars in additional debt to buy out his partners for $875 million.
With the team floundering and Snyder mired in scandals, the owners began considering ways to force him out. In October, Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay became the first owner to say publicly that Snyder should leave the league. Two weeks later, Sneijder said he had brought in bankers to explore selling the club.
Snyder was anxious to find a buyer willing to shell out $7 billion, but eventually settled on Harris, who brought in more than a dozen investors to join the bid. The league’s finance committee, which examines applications for teams, was not comfortable with the amount of debt Harris used to fund the purchase. But Harris put more of his personal fortune to guarantee some of those debts.
The Finance Committee voted informally on Monday to approve the purchase plan, paving the way for full ownership to vote on the deal on Thursday.
While Snyder no longer owns the team, allegations of financial impropriety by leaders in the Eastern District of Virginia continue to be investigated. Harris will also have to navigate Snyder’s strained relationship with local politicians, many of whom were angered by his reluctance to drop the old team name. For years, lawmakers in the county and on Capitol Hill did not consider allowing Snyder to build on the site of RFK Stadium.
With Snyder gone, that resistance may weaken. In December, Goodell spoke with District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser, who needs support from the federal government because the National Park Service controls the 190-acre site.
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