The last time Washington’s NFL team was up for sale, the process was long, complicated and contentious.
When owner Jack Kent Cooke died in April 1997, his will directed the team to become part of a charitable foundation rather than pass it directly to his family – resulting in the seven trustees managing the foundation selling the franchise.
The trustees first received an official offer valued at $450 million for the club in August 1998, but the franchise was not sold until May 1999, raising a record $800 million. In between, several lawsuits related to Cooke’s estate and the sale of the team, as well as several twists and turns, have been filed.
This go-around could be completed much sooner.
Over the weekend, multiple reports suggested that if Dan Snyder sells the Washington Commanders, the sale could be finalized as early as March at the NFL owners’ meeting in Phoenix. That’s less than five months from now.
While that schedule might seem surprising, it wouldn’t be outside the norm of how the NFL has worked for the past eight years. Since 2014, three teams — the Denver Broncos, Carolina Panthers, and Buffalo Bills — have been sold on the open market. All three were sold within seven months – a reflection of how quickly deals can come on properties that are rarely, if ever, available.
Take the sale of the Broncos, for example. The team’s future eluded years after owner Pat Bowlen’s death in 2019 as family members attempted to seize control of the franchise. But when the Broncos confirmed they were officially up for sale in February 2022, an ownership group led by Walmart heir Rob Walton agreed to buy the franchise for a record $4.65 billion just four months later.
The NFL owners signed the transaction at a special league meeting in August, letting Walton and co. take control of the team in time for the season.
The transition of the Panther from one owner to the next 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, the NFL owners confirmed the deal. Tepper assumed official control of the Panthers in July.
“Any potential transaction would have to be submitted to the NFL Finance Committee for consideration and would require a vote in favor of three-quarters of the full membership (24 of 32 teams),” league spokesman Brian McCarthy said last week when asked about a possible commander became sale.
In September 2014, the Bills were sold to Kim and Terry Pegula, five months after the death of then-owner Ralph Wilson — 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.
Fast transactions with sports teams aren’t unique to the NFL either. In the NBA, Steve Ballmer scored a deal to buy the Los Angeles Clippers in May 2014, just a month after Commissioner Adam Silver banned then-owner Donald Sterling from the league for life for making racist remarks. The Houston Rockets then made the switch about 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 February 2020 sale of the New York Mets after negotiations with minority partner and hedge fund manager Steve Cohen to buy the team fell through. But in a twist, Cohen bought the Mets for $2.4 billion in September.
Investment banks such as Allen & Company and Morgan Stanley are often involved in helping sports franchises sell. The company provides sellers with quotes and guidance throughout the process, Lisa Delpy Neirotti, associate professor of sports management at George Washington University, told The Washington Times last week.
In the Commanders’ case, the Snyders hired a department at Bank of America to evaluate “potential transactions.” The NFL Network reported Sunday that the company has already expressed “significant interest” from potential buyers. Although Forbes values the Commanders at $5.6 billion, there is an expectation that the team could sell for as much as $7 billion.
When Snyder bought Washington in 1999, he beat out at least nine other suitors. And now, all these years later, he’s the one sighting a bevy of interested buyers.