A group led by Josh Harris and Mitchell Rales that includes Magic Johnson has an agreement in principle to buy the NFL’s Washington Commanders from longtime owner Dan Snyder for a North American professional sports team record $6 billion, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.
The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity Thursday because the deal hasn’t been finalized. Another person told the AP a deal hasn’t been sent to the league for approval yet.
A Commanders spokesperson said the team was not in position to comment. The league declined to comment.
Once the deal is approved, Harris would owns stakes in teams in three of the four major North American pro sports leagues. He and David Blitzer have owned the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers since 2011 and the NHL’s New Jersey Devils since 2013.
The news was first reported by Sportico.
This price for the Commanders shatters what Harris and Blitzer paid for those organizations and tops the previous record of $4.65 billion set when Walmart heir Rob Walton’s group bought the Denver Broncos last year. Johnson, the basketball Hall of Famer who also owns part of Major League Baseball’s Los Angeles Dodgers, was also part of Harris’ bid for the Broncos.
Rales, co-founder of the Danaher Corporation and a Maryland resident, and Johnson were relatively late additions the group. Rales and Harris grew up in Bethesda in the Washington suburbs and give the team local ownership roots.
The sale of the Commanders is pending the execution of a contract and then approval from the rest of the league’s owners. It would take 24 of 32 votes to pass, which is not expected to be a problem after the Broncos sale was unanimously approved and given Snyder was beginning to fall out of favor with the group.
Snyder bought his boyhood team in 1999 for $750 million and despite mounting criticism repeatedly said he’d never sell. That changed after multiple investigations by the league and U.S. Congress into Washington’s workplace misconduct and potential improprieties. The congressional investigation found Snyder played a role in a toxic culture.
Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay in October became the first to suggest there was “merit to remove” Snyder, a nearly unprecedented move that would have also taken a three-quarters majority to happen. Instead, two weeks later, Snyder and wife Tanya hired Bank of America Securities to explore a possible sale of the team.
It quickly became apparent the Snyders, who bought out the previous minority owners in 2021, were not looking for new investors to buy in and maintain controlling interest. Canadian investor Steve Apostolopoulos and Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta were among the other bidders after early interest from D.C.-area businessman Todd Boehly and mortgage executive Mat Ishbia, who instead paid $4 billion to buy the NBA’s Phoenix Suns and WNBA’s Mercury.
The group led by Apostolopoulos was the only other one to submit a fully financed bid.
Harris and Rales are assuming control of a once-storied franchise that has fallen far from the 1980s and early ’90s glory days, when Washington won the Super Bowl three times. The team made the playoffs just six times in 24 seasons, only twice won a postseason game and went 166-226-2 overall with Snyder in charge.
They inherit coach Ron Rivera, who has run Washington’s football operations for three seasons, none with a winning record, including an NFC East title at 7-9 in 2020 followed by a first-round loss.
Their biggest immediate challenge for the long-term future of the organization is a new stadium to replace FedEx Field, the rushed-to-completion home of the team since 1997 in Landover, Maryland, that has not aged well. Virginia abandoned a stadium bill last spring given the number of off-field controversies swirling around the team.
Getting fans back is a major priority after Washington ranked last in the league in attendance in 2022 and were second-last in 2021. The team rebranded last year as the Commanders after dropping the name Redskins in the summer of 2020 and going by the Washington Football Team for two seasons.
It was not immediately clear what latitude Harris and Rales might have to make their own changes to the team name, logo or other aspects of design, or if they have any interest in changing course when they take over.
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