EXPLAINER: Snyder holds tight grip as owner of Commanders
Dan Snyder’s ownership of his hometown NFL team in Washington has been full of more controversy than playoff success for more than two decades.
Still, the past couple of years have been tumultuous enough to raise the question of how tight Snyder’s grip is on the once-storied franchise. While rebranding as the Washington Football Team and then the Commanders, the team has been mired in scandal — from former employees alleging sexual harassment to a congressional committee finding business misconduct and referring the case to the Federal Trade Commission.
Even amid the trouble and sagging attendance, it would take a major development to pave the way for anyone but Snyder to own the team, which Forbes values at $4.2 billion.
WHAT TROUBLE IS SNYDER IN?
If the league finds that Washington withheld ticket revenue from visiting teams, it could be significant. Virginia’s attorney general opened an inquiry into the Commanders’ finances after the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform sent a letter to various officials citing potential financial concerns.
The team denied that allegation and any notion that it withheld refundable season-ticket deposits from fans, outlining its stance in a letter sent to the FTC last week. The letter included emails and other documents the team said refutes testimony given by a former employee.
The team was fined $10 million last summer after attorney Beth Wilkinson’s independent investigation into workplace culture. Snyder stepped away from day-to-day operations with wife Tanya taking his place. The league never released a written report of the probe, which prompted Congress to launch its own investigation that turned into a look at the Commanders’ finances.
WHAT WOULD IT TAKE TO FORCE SNYDER OUT?
By the letter of the law, 24 of 32 owners would need to approve any motion to force a sale.
Just over a year ago, owners voted to allow the Snyder family to take full control of the team after he bought out three other partners. That move gave Snyder even more control over the franchise.
There’s no indication NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is in favor of pushing Snyder out — something that only owners can do, not the commissioner. Goodell in October said he thought Snyder and the team had been “held accountable” for what Wilkinson found to be a toxic workplace culture, and he has not budged on pleas from former employees and Congress to release a report about the investigation.
IS THERE PRECEDENT FOR AN OWNER BEING FORCED OUT?
Not by a two-thirds vote in the NFL. Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson announced in 2017 he’d sell the team when facing an investigation that accused him of sexual misconduct and using racist language at work. He sold the Panthers to David Tepper in 2018 for $2.2 billion.
Donald Sterling was ousted from the NBA in 2014 after the longtime Los Angels Clippers owner made racist remarks to a girlfriend that were recorded and publicized. Commissioner Adam Silver fined him $2.5 million and banned Sterling for life.
Major League Baseball banned Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott from the team’s day-to-day operations for the 1993 season and levied another suspension after she returned and continued to make offensive remarks. Ultimately, she was forced to sell controlling interest in the team in 1999.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR SNYDER AND THE COMMANDERS?
Likely a fight to prove allegations of financial misdeeds are untrue, which could come at the state and federal levels. The NFL engaged former Securities and Exchange Commission chair Mary Jo White to look into the most serious allegations broached by the House committee, and that situation bears watching.
Meanwhile, Snyder and the Commanders are in the midst of a lengthy stadium search. Their lease at FedEx Field expires in 2027, and with time running out to find a site in Maryland, Virginia or the District of Columbia, the series of scandals could make it more difficult for Snyder to get the kind of incentives other teams are receiving for a new stadium.
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