Dan Snyder has agreed to sell the NFL Washington Commanders for six billion dollars. While the sale sets a new American record for the sale of a sports franchise, there will not be much relief for Snyder. Federal prosecutors continue to look into sexual harassment claims and the team’s finances. These cases directly implicate the soon-to-be former owner.
Snyder has long been a scapegoat for Washington’s problems, and rightfully so. The team used to be number one in NFL attendance, boasting a waiting list for season tickets of over 100,000 fans. From the 1980s to the early 1990s, Washington made it to four Super Bowls, winning three of them. Since Snyder bought the team for 800 million dollars in 1999, Washington has become last in NFL attendance and has not won a playoff game since the 2005 season. Once representing an excited, loyal, and hopeful city, Snyder’s team now represents a polarized and selfish capital, ridden with scandal.
Snyder’s quarter-century of control has been all about the money. His first act as owner was selling the naming rights to Jack Kent Cooke Stadium, once named after the memory of the former owner, who was known for integrating minor league Canadian baseball. The stadium is now FedExField, named after the highest bidder. Soon after, Snyder expanded FedExField’s capacity, charging fans over 7,000 dollars to bypass the ticket waitlist. The stadium is often ranked among the worst stadiums in the league. After a loss to the rival Philadelphia Eagles in 2022, portions of the player’s tunnel collapsed, sending several fans into Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts. Snyder had been using the team as his personal piggy bank. In 2020, it was discovered that the team took out a 55 million dollars loan, without the necessary approval of minority owners. Team funds like this one paid Snyder’s $10 million annual salary, two personal yachts, and multiple properties. Snyder even leased his own private jets back to his own team.
The question remains: will new ownership change anything? While a new owner could rekindle Washington’s competitiveness and fans’ passion, and likely lobby for a new stadium, sexual harassment investigations against the team continue. Former team executives recently testified that Washington has been rife with bullying, public embarrassment, and harassment. Although much of this toxic culture was enabled by Snyder, how different could another billionaire owner be? Team ownership is still all about the money, perhaps with less scandal than Snyder’s tenure. In fact, sports teams are commonly used as tax shelters for billionaire owners. In the United States, owners may deduct the cost of buying a team from their taxable income for years after the purchase. So, while owners report losses on their tax returns, they make millions of dollars as their team’s value soars. Often, owners pay a lower percentage of their income in tax than their millionaire players.
In the end, while Snyder may have sold the sinking ship of the Washington Commanders, he has not escaped scandal just yet. One can hope that the team can find success on the field under new ownership, but it will likely still be all about the money.