News & Politics

Dan Snyder Could Sell the Washington Commanders. Here’s What To Know.

Including potential buyers, NFL drama, and the timing of a possible sale.

Commanders owner Dan Snyder. Photograph by Flickr user Keith Allison.

Washington football fans, rejoice! Your long-awaited deliverance from Commanders owner Dan Snyder could finally, mercifully be at hand (or at least drawing closer). On Wednesday, Forbes reported that Snyder has hired Bank of America to explore selling the franchise. Have questions? We have answers:

Is Dan Snyder really going to sell the team?

Quite possibly! Forbes reports that Snyder “has at least four calls from groups interested in buying the team.” Is Snyder taking those calls? Would interested groups be making those calls if there wasn’t good reason to do so? Answers are unclear. What matters is that while the team did not comment to Forbes, it did release a public statement announcing that Snyder and the Commanders have hired Bank of America to “consider potential transactions” involving the team he has owned since 1999. As anyone who has spent any time in Washington can tell you, non-denials written in lawyerly PR-speak are often as telling as direct admissions.

A related possibility? Snyder is looking to sell part of the Commanders while keeping control of and a majority ownership stake in the franchise. Last year, he bought out the team’s previous minority owners for $875 million following an ugly and unusually public legal fight—and reportedly took on an additional $450 million in debt to close the deal. Perhaps Snyder is facing a cash flow and/or debt servicing crunch as inflation and interest rates skyrocket. Maybe he needs a large infusion of money for something else, like funding a new stadium to replace crumbling FedEx Field, which has been ranked as the worst stadium in the NFL. Or maybe he’s feeling weirdly strapped after buying a $48 million Potomac riverfront estate last year, the most expensive home ever sold in the DC area.

Sure, but why sell—excuse me, consider potential transactions—now?

In a word, pressure. Outside of some Congressional Republicans and an assortment of on-the-payroll K Street types (read: lawyers, flacks, and lobbyists, including former Rep. Tom Davis), Snyder lacks the one thing everyone in Washington needs: a constituency. Almost nobody wants him around. The fans who can still be bothered to show up at FedEx are increasingly fed up with two decades of off-field embarrassments and mostly lousy football. Congress, the NFL, and even the DC Attorney General are investigating the Commanders’ allegedly toxic workplace culture and Snyder’s alleged role in it. Area politicians who once were competing to give Snyder hundreds of millions—or even billions—of dollars for a new stadium have changed their minds. Even Taylor Swift, who presumably enjoys both touring and making gobs of money from touring, is not walking through that door. 

Then there are the only people on Earth who Snyder can’t successfully blow off by dropping yacht anchor somewhere off the coast of Corfu: other NFL owners. According to a lengthy and explosive ESPN investigative report published last month, league owners “hate” Snyder and are inclined to force him to sell the team—not only because he allegedly used private detectives to gather information on his fellow owners and on NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. but also because they view him as a drag on their wallets for (a) fumbling away a publicly-funded stadium in Virginia just inches from the legislative goal line; (b) producing a Commanders gate that is “the lowest in the league” and revenues that are “significantly low and trending lower”; (c) allegedly withholding revenue from the league.

Could NFL owners actually force Snyder to sell? According to ESPN, at least 24 of the NFL’s 32 owners would have to agree to make that happen. Whipping up that level of support would be extremely difficult—the first rule of Sports Owner Club is Don’t Ever Roll On Other Members of Sports Owner Club—but perhaps not impossible. A few weeks ago, Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay broke, stomped, and tossed owner code in the trash by publicly stating that he believes there are grounds for NFL owners to consider voting Snyder out—something he very likely would not have done if other owners and/or the league office didn’t strongly feel the same way.

In 2020, journalist and NFL book author Mark Leibovich told Washingtonian that Snyder’s odds of losing the Commanders because of NFL owner discontent were 50-50. Nothing about Snyder’s position has improved since then.

Any other reason for Snyder to sell?

Only the biggest: A sale would net him an absolutely astronomical amount of money.

How much money, exactly?

It’s hard to say, since pro sports teams don’t come with CarMax sticker prices. But consider this: Earlier this year, Forbes valued the Commanders at $5.6 billion, making it the sixth-most valuable franchise in the NFL. It’s possible that Snyder could command an even higher price, given that the most recent league franchise to change hands, the Denver Broncos, was valued at $3.75 billion by Forbes but sold for $4.65 billion, a record for a North American team. Given that Snyder paid $750 million for a controlling stake in the Commanders in 1999 and another $850 million last year for full ownership, he would stand to clear a $4 billion profit—which, in technical financial terms, is pretty freakin’ good.

Oh, and just for fun: $4 billion divided by $48 million equals 83.3 record-breaking Potomac riverfront estates. But who’s counting?

Would someone actually pay $5.6 billion for a NFL team?

Absolutely. For truly, deeply, madly, obscenely rich folks, there is nothing like owning a NFL franchise. They’re the ultimate collectors’ items: Only 32 exist, and they’re rarely available for purchase. They’re an ego-boosting plaything that give you instant local and national cultural cachet. They allow you to hoover up glory and credit for on-field success and championships—win the Super Bowl, and you actually get to stand on the field, hold the trophy, and give a darn victory speech to a national television audience!—without risking debilitating physical injury or lifelong brain damage. Thanks to the NFL’s low-key socialist system of revenue-sharing among teams and aggressively capitalist system of controlling labor costs, you’re guaranteed to turn a profit no matter how you perform on the field. Thanks to advertiser desperation and the peculiar economics of Pay TV, the amount of money networks are willing to pay for your product goes up even as overall audience sizes go down.

Who might buy the team?

Who knows? Maybe Jeff Bezos, who is rumored to want a NFL team, has growing ties to the DC area, is already in a business relationship with the NFL via Amazon’s broadcasts of Thursday Night Football, and is a popular choice on both social media and among the true sickos who gamble on stuff like “Washington Commanders Owner in 2023.” Given the expected price tag, it’s hard to rule any ultra-wealthy people out, with the exceptions of Vladimir Putin (too, uh, controversial), the Saudi Public Investment Fund (ditto, though not for a whole bunch of professional golfers), and Ted Leonsis (reportedly too busy trying to buy the Washington Nationals). 

Okay, wait a second—hasn’t Snyder said many, many times that he’ll never sell the Commanders?

Yes. But he also said the same thing about changing the team’s nickname. That didn’t age well!