Josh Harris has reached an agreement in principle to acquire the Washington Commanders for $6 billion, according to people familiar with the matter.
Harris and Commanders owner Dan Snyder are hoping to execute a contract in the coming days, said the people, who were granted anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the transaction publicly.
Harris declined to comment. A representative for the Commanders declined to comment.
The deal between Snyder and the group led by Harris, the Philadelphia 76ers co-owner, would end one of the more tumultuous and controversial ownership tenures in modern U.S. sports.
Harris’ group includes billionaire Mitchell Rales and former NBA star Magic Johnson.
The negotiations, which took place over the last six months, occurred amid the constant specter of whether Jeff Bezos, the world’s third richest man, might submit a bid. Bezos is worth $124 billion, nearly double the NFL’s next richest owner, but never submitted an offer.
If the deal closes, it will be the highest price ever paid for a sports team, eclipsing the $4.6 billion that Rob Walton paid for the NFL’s Denver Broncos last year.
It will also end Snyder’s 24-year ownership tenure, which has soured as fans and fellow owners distanced themselves amid allegations of a hostile workplace culture and financial wrongdoing. Those controversies sparked speculation over whether the league might need to consider the unprecedented step of removing an owner, conversations that continued even after Snyder retained Bank of America to explore a possible sale.
The co-founder of Apollo Global Management, Harris, who grew up in the D.C. area, has been looking to grow his sports portfolio beyond Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment, which owns the NBA’s 76ers, the NHL’s New Jersey Devils and the Prudential Center. Also an investor in English soccer club Crystal Palace, he was a runner-up in bidding for both the Broncos and the New York Mets in the past few years. Rales is the co-founder of Danaher Corp. (NYSE: DHR).
In addition, Harris is a minority partner in the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers, a stake he will have to sell should he take over the Commanders. That equity was previously held by David Tepper, who had to sell it when he bought the Carolina Panthers in 2018.
Snyder purchased the Commanders, then called the Washington Redskins, in 1999 for $800 million. At the time, it was the most valuable sports team in the world, but it has slipped over the years because of struggles on and off the field. Sportico currently values the team at $4.8 billion, which ranks eighth in the league.
The Commanders have made the playoffs just five times since the 1999 season, and won just one postseason game (2005). In the NFC, only the Detroit Lions have gone longer since their last playoff victory. The Commanders averaged 58,106 fans at home last season, the lowest total in the NFL.
That attendance slide—the team averaged 83,172 fans in 2010, second most in the league—shows the extent to which the Commanders’ fans turned on Snyder amid the team’s many controversies. They include long-running reports of rampant workplace harassment, a Congressional investigation into financial impropriety, and his staunch opposition to changing what many considered a racist team name (he finally relented in 2020).
The sale also comes on the eve of another investigation into Snyder’s stewardship of the team. The NFL last year hired former SEC chair Mary Jo White to look into the franchise, and that report is expected to be released in the coming weeks or months.
As the Snyder drama increased, so too did frustrations within the NFL and the other 31 franchises. In October, ESPN reported that Snyder claimed to have “dirt” on other owners that he could use if they turned against him. Shortly afterward, Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay became the first to publicly say Snyder should be ousted, and the pressure has mounted since then. The process to remove him, however, is complex, and could have set a precedent by which other NFL owners could be forced out in the future.
One of the first priorities for the new ownership group will be a new stadium. FedEx Field, the team’s current home in Maryland, opened in 1997 and does not have the revenue-generating trappings of newer NFL venues. That will be an expensive endeavor, especially if public funds aren’t made available—Rams owner Stan Kroenke’s privately financed new stadium in Los Angeles cost more than $5 billion—but it will also improve the economics for the Commanders moving forward.
(This story has been updated to include information on Harris’ stake in the Pittsburgh Steelers.)