The early months of the NFL off-season are typically flush with intentionally misleading and openly manipulative media reports about how teams, free agents and draft prospects regard one another. This year, with an embattled franchise owner weighing his options about a potential sale, it’s the billionaires, and also the millionaires, who are having their plans and motivations guessed at.
Since November, Washington Commanders owner Dan Snyder has been making moves indicating that he’s trying to unload the team he’s owned for nearly twenty-five years. For many, the logical buyer is Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.
Those who think Bezos should be the new owner of the Commanders cite his status as the third-richest person in the world, that he holds a considerable amount of cultural cachet, and that the NFL already does business with Amazon, including use of Amazon Web Services and Amazon’s content streaming service, which holds broadcast rights for Thursday Night Football. Bezos also has several connections to the DC area: he owns two, side-by-side, multimillion-dollar mansions in the District; he owns the Washington Post; and Amazon’s second headquarters is in the process of being built in Northern Virginia.
The Washington Post is a huge potential sticking point here. Snyder notoriously hates the paper and reviles its coverage of him and his team, a rancor that predates Bezos buying the Post in 2013, yet has certainly not faded since. Over the last couple years, the Post’s reports about the alleged culture of sexual harassment within the franchise has landed Snyder in hot water, leading to him testifying before a congressional committee in 2022.
Fittingly, in the last week of January, a report emerged saying that Bezos would be willing to part with the Post if it meant having a shot at buying the Commanders. Another report at the time indicated that Bank of America, which Snyder hired to help with the sale, continued to court Bezos despite persistent signs that Snyder had reservations. For what it’s worth, in spite of Post employee frustration at the prospect of looming layoffs, Bezos has made no definitive sign that he is trying to sell the paper. After sharp revenue gains during his first few years, reports published in late August 2022 showed the Post’s momentum during the frenzied Trump years had slowed dramatically and that the paper was slated to lose money last year.
Drama subsided for a few weeks because the league absolutely did not want this overshadowing the Super Bowl. But it picked up steam again during final week of February. Multiple outlets reported that Bezos has been banned from bidding on the Commanders, though another reported that not only is he still in the running but reports suggesting otherwise were likely a purposeful leak from Snyder to drive up the sale price.
Still another, from Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated, said Bezos would be as interested, “if not more so,” in purchasing the Seahawks, and that several owners are eager for him to join the club. Amazon’s link to Seattle is even stronger than its link to Washington, and with the late Paul Allen as a former owner, the Seahawks are no stranger to being run by a tech overlord. That said, Allen’s sister and the present chair of the franchise, Jody, announced last summer that the team is not for sale. Nevertheless, it’s clear that differing parties in the Snyder-Bezos standoff have been pulling this story’s strings behind the scenes.
Snyder, as the majority member of an investment group, purchased the then-Redskins in 1999 for $800 million, at the time the highest selling price for an American sports franchise. Depending on who you believe, Snyder is now seeking either $6 or $7 billion.
The only bid terms we know about come from Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta, who submitted an offer of $5.5 billion. While that might be a throwback to Snyder’s predecessor, Jack Kent Cooke, who for a while also owned the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers and the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings, it’s below Snyder’s reported asking price. This lack of offers meeting Snyder’s rumored demands has touched off an even more controversial possibility: that Snyder may not be trying to sell the team at all.
In the weeks and perhaps months to come, we will find out for sure. Nevertheless, the business of selling an NFL franchise is a messy thing, especially when the seller has a persecution complex and the most well-heeled potential buyer has had the means to torment the seller for years. But when only that person has the means to meet the current owner’s asking price, openly antagonizing him through the media is a great way not to sell the team.