What Comes After Dan Snyder?
9:00 AM EDT on March 29, 2023
Despite our best efforts to imagine Danny Snyder delaying the sale of his unbeloved football team by any means necessary (including, in our fantasies, jamming crutches into wheelchairs), the Washington Post keeps telling us that a sale of the Commanders is coming closer, most notably through at least two offers of $6 billion which will doubtless get to $7 billion because of the magic of the modern bidding war. In other words, Snyder wins at the minimal cost of what passes for what’s left of his reputation.
Then again, this being Snyder and all, we'll believe it six weeks after we see it, and then only if we get copies of the paperwork with the signatures affixed in blood.
The two who have made bids are a group headed by Josh Harris, owner of the two-time G-League finalist Delaware Blue Coats and some NHL, NBA, and Premier League flotsam, and Canadian billionaire investor Steve Apostolopoulos. Harris is backed by Mitchell Rales, whose net worth is around $5.6 billion, and Magic Johnson, who occasionally tweets. Apostolopoulos is worth about $3.9 billion, but his other partners have not yet been revealed.
But the Post also released a study into the wild Tuesday that claims that the Commanders, née Slurs, have plummeted in popularity to being less liked locally than the Nationals (currently listed as the worst team in baseball by ESPN), and barely more interesting than the Capitals (on the verge of missing the playoffs for the second time in 16 years), Wizards (haven't reached a conference final since 1979) D.C. United (haven't won an MLS title since there were only 10 franchises) or Mystics (the most recent area champion).
And the main reason for that disaffection? Danny Snyder and his ownership "style."
It is hard to imagine anyone in Washington who is actually that concerned with the relative decency of those in charge because the bar to clear lies in a fissure at the bottom of the Anacostia River, but Snyder does seem to be the exception to the district rule that "My repellent criminal is better than your unprincipled dirtbag." Everyone in town seems to agree that he doesn't meet the power broker class's already-subterranean standard for decency.
Under normal circumstances, this would mean that any new owner or owners would have an even lower bar to clear to please the District by the simple fact of not being Snyder. And let's be honest here—as a like-to-like exercise we're talking the Ovechkin Caps compared to a Micronesian pee-wee ice hockey travel team.
That said, the new owners, if they actually achieve such an honorific, are going to be asked—no, ordered—to make the Commanders the flower of the District yet again, and this is probably a much more difficult and protracted process than merely bringing in the fumigators. In short, transferring six bills or more to someone who deserves actual, crippling, lunch-from-dumpsters bankruptcy is the easiest part of the job. In the circles in which they all travel, money is the cheapest commodity there is. None of the bidders seem to be worth quite that much on their own, so partners will have to become involved, and that always means tension, backbiting, and frontstabbing in the near future. Because where there is credit, there must be blame, and where there's publicity, there must be mendacious counterfactuals. It's the joy of petty intrigue in a city built on it.
There will be months of having to prove that the winning candidate is not only not Snyder and therefore worth cozying up to without public relations embarrassment, but is actually going to become a proper power broker in a club which already has far more influential and powerful owners. This will take years and will require a number of other franchise owners moving on—Jerry Jones, Stan Kroenke, Bob Kraft, Shahid Khan, Clark Hunt, John Mara, Jeff Lurie, the Rooney family, Jody Allen, and maybe more. That's a lot of sales, or more permanent transitions. All the winning bidder would be here is the new boy (so far, there are no women visible in either of the consortiums), and new boys learn quickly to wait their turn in the NFL. He'd just be the guy who rid the other owners of their most turbulent and least trustworthy partner, and their debt to him would end the day the ink dries on the transfer papers.
Next, there is the matter of finding a way to either revivify FedEx Field, the gussied-up exurban mausoleum where the Commanders take the knee, or find a way to build a new stadium that amazes the wealthy and powerful while not fleecing the community in which it rests. There is so much financial healing that the winner has to engender to overcome the damage to the old firm that Snyder did, and the longer it takes, the more impatient the observers get. You want to be a billionaire hero? Fix everything within a week or have someone ready to blame when you can't.
And finally, there is renewing a football operations department that has reached the postseason only five times in this century (winning the division at 7-9 in 2019 being the most recent of those) and won one playoff game in six tries. The 'Ders have been better in aggregate than only the Raiders, Texans, Jaguars, Lions, and Browns, and worse than the Cardinals, Jets, Bears, Dolphins, and the entire rest of the NFC East. The games barely draw two-thirds of stadium capacity, and that's if you believe their numbers, which given that we're talking Snyder here you absolutely shouldn't. Their only leaguewide achievement is in comforting all the other owners with the knowledge that they're not the worst of them all. Not even Mark Davis.
In other words, for the winner to get full ego credit for buying the Commanders, he must rely on his fellow owners thanking him for eradicating Snyder, thank him a second time for not leaving the team to Jeff Bezos and his nearly incalculable and uncontrollable wealth, and then he has to win over a community that has learned over the last quarter-century to reflexively hate and be ashamed of its dry rot-encased football team. And after all that, he has to make back the six bills for himself and his partners. This last one is the easiest, but even at that it's going to take not years but generations, because monetizing the gratitude of strangers isn't as easy as it looks.
All that said, the new owner is guaranteed to be held in higher esteem than his predecessor, because undercutting Danny Snyder's rep would take diamond-tipped mining tools. At least that's true for a while, anyway. People have a very short attention span for that sort of thing, and New Boy has maybe a year, 18 months tops, to be able to use the "But you remember who was here before, right?" dodge. Snyder won't be here to kick around forever, after all, and sooner rather than later someone else will have to be the arse at which everyone aims their boots.