When owner Jack Kent Cooke died in April 1997, his will directed the team to be part of a charitable foundation rather than pass it on directly to his family — leading the seven trustees managing the foundation to sell the franchise.
The trustees first received an official offer worth $450 million for the club in August 1998, but the franchise didn’t end up selling until May 1999, fetching a record $800 million. In between, there were multiple lawsuits filed related to Cooke’s estate and the sale of the team, as well as several twists and turns.
This go-around could wrap up a lot sooner.
Over the weekend, multiple reports indicated that if Dan Snyder does sell the Washington Commanders, the sale could be finalized as soon as March at the NFL’s owners’ meeting in Phoenix. That’s less than five months from now.
While that timeline may seem surprising, it wouldn’t be out of the norm from how the NFL has operated over the last eight years. Since 2014, three teams — the Denver Broncos, Carolina Panthers, and Buffalo Bills — have been sold on the open market. All three sold within seven months — a reflection of how quickly deals can come together for properties that are rarely, if ever, available.
Take the Broncos’ sale, for instance. The future of the team lingered for years after owner Pat Bowlen’s death in 2019 as family members tried to wrestle control of the franchise. But once the Broncos confirmed they were officially for sale in February 2022, an ownership group led by Walmart heir Rob Walton reached an agreement to buy the franchise just four months later for a record $4.65 billion.
The NFL owners signed off on the transaction at a special league meeting in August, letting Walton and Co. take control of the team just in time for the season.
The Panthers’ transition from one owner to the next also was completed relatively quickly. In December 2017, Jerry Richardson announced he was selling his team amid a sexual harassment scandal. On May 15, 2018, billionaire David Tepper, then a minority owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, signed an agreement to buy the Panthers for $2.275 billion.
A week later, NFL owners ratified the deal. Tepper took official control of the Panthers that July.
“Any potential transaction would have to be presented to the NFL Finance Committee for review and require an affirmative vote by three-quarters of the full membership (24 of 32 teams),” league spokesman Brian McCarthy said last week when asked about a possible Commanders sale.
In September 2014, the Bills were sold to Kim and Terry Pegula five months after then-owner Ralph Wilson died — and three months after Wilson’s estate hired Morgan Stanley to oversee a sale. The Pegulas beat out other bids from Jon Bon Jovi and Donald Trump before he became president.
Speedy transactions involving sports teams don’t just happen in the NFL, either. In the NBA, Steve Ballmer reached a deal to buy the Los Angeles Clippers in May 2014 just one month after Commissioner Adam Silver banned then-owner Donald Sterling from the league for life for making racist remarks. The Houston Rockets then changed hands roughly two months after Leslie Alexander said he was selling the team in 2017.
In Major League Baseball, Fred Wilpon hired Allen & Company to oversee a sale of the New York Mets in February 2020 after negotiations with minority partner and hedge fund manager Steve Cohen to buy the team collapsed. But in a twist, Cohen bought the Mets for $2.4 billion that September.
Investment banks like Allen & Company and Morgan Stanley are commonly involved in helping sports franchises get sold. The firms field offers and provide guidance to sellers throughout the process, George Washington University sport management associate professor Lisa Delpy Neirotti told The Washington Times last week.
In the case of the Commanders, the Snyders hired a division of Bank of America to evaluate “potential transactions.” The NFL Network reported Sunday that the company has already fielded “considerable interest” from prospective buyers. Though Forbes estimates the Commanders’ value at $5.6 billion, there’s an expectation the team could sell for as high as $7 billion.
• Matthew Paras can be reached at email@example.com.
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