- The Washington Times
Thursday, November 3, 2022

ASHBURN — Washington Commanders owner Dan Snyder is finding no shortage of suitors as he weighs “all options” regarding a potential sale of the franchise.

In the day since the team confirmed the Snyders have hired an investment bank to evaluate “potential transactions” of the franchise, media mogul Byron Allen reportedly plans to make a play for the team, and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, in partnership with hip-hop artist Jay-Z, is also in the mix.  

The interest reflects not just the gold-plated status of the NFL in general, but a broader sense that Washington, in particular, is still a diamond, albeit one dinged-up and diminished by years of disappointment on the field, embarrassments off and the glaring lack of a longterm stadium plan.

Snyder, who purchased the team in 1999 for $800 million, is the common thread running through the fabric of two decades of football misery in Washington. But if the embattled billionaire does go through with a sale of his beloved childhood team, his consolation prize will be considerable: Forbes estimates the franchise is now worth $5.6 billion.

And the Commanders are likely to fetch even more than Forbes estimates. Consider this: In 2021, Forbes pegged the Denver Broncos’ value at $3.75 billion. A year later, when the team was actually sold, Walmart heir Rob Walton paid $4.65 billion for the Broncos. 

“I would say it’s almost a certainty (the deal surpasses Forbes’ evaluation), to the extent you get multiple bidders here,” said Marty Conway, a Georgetown adjunct sports and business professor. “This is a jewel opportunity. Remember, this franchise is really important to the NFL. In its glory days, there were presidents and heads of governments and agencies, senators, members of congress … this was a place to be seen.”

Conway said new ownership would likely help “reinstitute” the league’s relationship with Capitol Hill. Snyder’s controversies have been a problem for lawmakers, with a congressional committee actively investigating the owner and the team’s workplace misconduct. Rep. Jennifer Wexton, a House Democrat from Northern Virginia, tweeted Wednesday that “our region will be better off” if Snyder does sell the team.

“If this comes to be, good riddance,” Ms. Wexton wrote. 

The Commanders’ potential deal to have their next stadium built in Virginia also fell apart earlier this year when local lawmakers shelved bills that would have provided funding for the project. Lawmakers at the time cited dysfunction within the franchise as a reason for tabling talks. “This thing never had the momentum to assume that it was going to pass,” Del. Barry D. Knight, a Virginia Beach Republican, told The Washington Times. 

As it turns out, Washington’s unsettled stadium situation may actually help attract bids for the franchise. Conway said he thinks overseeing a new stadium would be “very much a benefit” to a new owner, noting they would have the ability to leverage the District, Virginia and Maryland for a new facility in a way that Snyder could not. He pointed to the obstacles that Snyder has faced, for instance, in trying to secure the federally owned land at RFK Stadium, which Congress has been unwilling to give back to the District. 

“If you are a new owner, including one who might be politically connected, (and they) could influence that to happen in the next three to five years,” Conway said, “then that’s where I think you are looking at upside from the Denver Broncos being $4.5 billion to, in my estimation, starts at $6 billion. I could see it getting between $6 (billion) and $7 billion.” 

Snyder and the Commanders, of course, are the subject of multiple investigations — probes that include the U.S. attorney’s office in the Eastern District of Virginia, which has reportedly opened a criminal investigation into accusations of financial improprieties within the franchise.

But the scandals don’t seem to have done permanent damage. Forbes ranks the Commanders as the sixth-most valuable NFL franchise, raising its valuation by 33% within the last year. Lisa Delpy Neirotti, a sports management professor for George Washington University, said Washington’s value remains high because a new owner would have an opportunity to easily win back a once-proud fanbase that lost interest under Snyder.

And the District, as a market, remains enormously valuable. Delpy Neirotti noted the Washington area is the sixth largest metropolitan area that is also an “influential market for sponsors,” with five of the country’s 15 wealthiest counties residing in Virginia and Maryland. 

“It has a rich tradition,” Delpy Neirotti said. “It has a huge market. And it’s a more influential market. Houston may be bigger in terms of size, but the nation’s capital? I mean that’s a pretty influential market. So you can’t downplay that.” 

Snyder hasn’t officially said whether he will end up selling the Commanders. But after all the scrutiny that he’s faced — including from other owners — the embattled billionaire could still end his tenure with billions of dollars in his pocket by the end of it.

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

Copyright © 2023 The Washington Times, LLC.