Owners of the N.F.L.’s 31 other teams unanimously approved the sale of the Washington Commanders to a group led by Josh Harris, the private equity billionaire, who agreed to pay a record $6.05 billion to Daniel Snyder, the scandal-plagued owner of the team.
The figure surpassed the previous highest price paid for an American sports team, the $4.65 billion a group led by the Walmart heir Rob Walton paid last year for the Denver Broncos. The Commanders transaction is expected to formally close as early as Friday. Snyder bought the team in 1999 for $800 million.
“Josh will be a great addition to the N.F.L.,” Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement announcing the vote, adding, “I know he has a commitment to winning on the field, but also to running an organization that everyone will be proud of — and to making positive contributions in the community.”
The vote, taken at an ad hoc, one-day meeting in Minneapolis, will allow Harris and his group to take control of one of the league’s cornerstone franchises, which under Snyder had endured years of losses on the field and bouts of chaos off it. Harris has a track record of improving the standings of the other professional teams he owns, the Philadelphia 76ers of the N.B.A. and the New Jersey Devils of the N.H.L.
Harris and his group will focus on improving the team’s tattered image and explore options for repairing or replacing FedEx Field, the team’s home since 1997. The franchise owns land in Maryland and Virginia, the location of its training facility. But many N.F.L. team owners prefer that the Commanders build a new stadium in the District of Columbia, where the team played for most of its history.
“This franchise is part of who I am and who I’ve become as a person,” Harris said, noting that he grew up rooting for the team in nearby Chevy Chase, Md. “A new era of Washington football is here.”
Harris and his investment group, which includes the businessman and philanthropist Mitchell Rales and Magic Johnson, the retired N.B.A. star, will have their hands full. During Snyder’s 24-year tenure, the team made the postseason just six times, winning two playoff games. The once-dominant franchise, which won three Super Bowl titles in the 1980s and ’90s, saw attendance plummet to league lows as losses mounted, its stadium fell into disrepair and its owner alienated fans and sponsors with his pugnacity.
Almost from the moment he bought the Washington franchise in 1999, Snyder butted heads with the league and his fellow owners over his flouting of the salary cap and his insistence that the team retain the original name and logo that the franchise had when it moved to Washington, even though many Native American groups considered it racist. The team changed its name to the Commanders in 2020.
In 2020, the N.F.L. also began an investigation into reports of widespread sexual harassment in the team offices. After investigating the claims, Goodell fined the team $10 million, but, under pressure from Snyder, did not release the league’s findings. The decision prompted members of Congress to begin their own inquiry, which uncovered more allegations of harassment and financial fraud.
In a 79-page report, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform said that Snyder, aided by the N.F.L. and Goodell, suppressed evidence that he and other team executives sexually harassed women who worked at the team over two decades.
The committee said Snyder went to extraordinary lengths to stall investigations into him and his team. The efforts, the report said, included his attempt to pay former employees “hush money” to not discuss their experiences, the refusal to release one woman from her nondisclosure agreement after she settled a sexual misconduct claim against Snyder for $1.6 million and the use of private investigators and leaked emails to intimidate former employees into declining interview requests.
The league hired Mary Jo White, a former federal prosecutor, to look into the allegations unearthed by the committee. White’s report was released following the league’s approval of the sale.
In her 17-month investigation into the team, White found that Snyder sexually harassed a woman who was both a former cheerleader and marketing employee for the team, and substantiated claims that the team intentionally withheld about $11 million in revenue that was supposed to be shared among the league’s 32 teams.
The investigation could neither conclude nor rule out that Snyder directed or participated in this revenue-shielding, but that “at a minimum, he was aware of certain efforts to minimize revenue sharing.”
The league fined Snyder a record $60 million.
Snyder had asked the N.F.L. to indemnify him from liability in outstanding and potential future legal disputes, but did not receive such protection.
For years, Snyder controlled a majority stake with a small group of relatives and friends, as well as three limited partners, including Fred Smith, the chairman of FedEx, who together owned the remaining 40 percent of the club. In 2020, the partners accused Snyder of mismanaging the team’s finances. Snyder accused them of leaking damaging information about him and the toxic work culture at the team’s office as a way to force the sale of the club.
Owners of the N.F.L.’s other teams, hoping to bury the messy dispute, gave Snyder a waiver to take on hundreds of millions of dollars in additional debt to buy out his partners for $875 million.
With the team foundering and Snyder engulfed in scandals, the owners began to contemplate ways to force him out. In October, the Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay became the first owner to publicly say Snyder ought to leave the league. Two weeks later, Snyder said he had hired bankers to explore a sale of the club.
Snyder was eager to find a buyer willing to pay $7 billion, but he ultimately settled on Harris, who brought in more than a dozen investors to join the bid. The league’s finance committee, which vets applications for teams, had been uncomfortable with the amount of debt Harris was using to finance the purchase. But Harris put up more of his personal fortune to guarantee some of that debt.
The finance committee voted informally on Monday to approve the purchase plan, paving the way for the full ownership to vote on the transaction on Thursday.
While Snyder no longer owns the team, an investigation into allegations of financial improprieties by the Commanders continues in the Eastern District of Virginia. Harris will also have to overcome Snyder’s rocky relationship with local politicians, many of whom were angered by his reluctance to abandon the team’s longtime name. For years, lawmakers in the District, and on Capitol Hill, would not consider allowing Snyder to build on the site of R.F.K. Stadium.
With Snyder gone, that resistance may soften. In December, Goodell spoke with Mayor Muriel Bowser of the District of Columbia, who needs the support of the federal government because the National Park Service controls the 190-acre site.