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The 5 O’Clock Club: Could a Snyder-Bezos partnership allow everyone to have their cake and eat it too?

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It’s 5 o’clock somewhere…

Washington Redskins v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The 5 o’clock club is published several times per week during the season, and aims to provide a forum for reader-driven discussion at a time of day when there isn’t much NFL news being published. Feel free to introduce topics that interest you in the comments below.


Twitter has had a flurry of reports and comments this week about Jeff Bezos possibly joining the NFL ownership ranks. I know Ken mentioned it in the Monday Six Pack yesterday, and it seems as if everyone is well-aware of the reports, so I’ll just jump right in with both feet.

Who Jeff Bezos is

I honestly don’t know a lot about Jeff Bezos, which probably has a lot to do with living abroad for so long. I used to be drinking buddies with Craig McDermott, which will be significant to probably less than a half-dozen readers on this site, and I follow the antics of Prayuth Chan-o-cha rather closely, along with other ne’er do wells like Prawit Wongsuwan and his watch collection. Living in different parts off the world affects which information you prioritize.

For a bit of perspective as to who Jeff Bezos is, I looked to a fine publication, The Atlantic, which profiled Bezos this month. If you are interested in learning a lot about Jeff Bezos, I highly recommend this article. Be prepared, though — it’s the length of a Shakesperian play, not the 800 words or so of a typical blog post.

At 55, Bezos has never dominated a major market as thoroughly as [many other wealthy businessmen], and while he is presently the richest man on the planet, he has less wealth than Gates did at his zenith. Yet Rockefeller largely contented himself with oil wells, pump stations, and railcars; Gates’s fortune depended on an operating system. The scope of the empire the founder and CEO of Amazon has built is wider. Indeed, it is without precedent in the long history of American capitalism.

Today, Bezos controls nearly 40 percent of all e-commerce in the United States. More product searches are conducted on Amazon than on Google, which has allowed Bezos to build an advertising business as valuable as the entirety of IBM. One estimate has Amazon Web Services controlling almost half of the cloud-computing industry—institutions as varied as General Electric, Unilever, and even the CIA rely on its servers. Forty-two percent of paper book sales and a third of the market for streaming video are controlled by the company; Twitch, its video platform popular among gamers, attracts 15 million users a day. Add The Washington Post to this portfolio and Bezos is, at a minimum, a rival to the likes of Disney’s Bob Iger or the suits at AT&T, and arguably the most powerful man in American culture.

To the U.S. president, he is a nemesis. To many Americans, he is a beneficent wizard of convenience and abundance. Over the course of just this past year, Amazon has announced the following endeavors: It will match potential home buyers with real-estate agents and integrate their new homes with Amazon devices; it will enable its voice assistant, Alexa, to access health-care data, such as the status of a prescription or a blood-sugar reading; it will build a 3-million-square-foot cargo airport outside Cincinnati; it will make next-day delivery standard for members of its Prime service; it will start a new chain of grocery stores, in addition to Whole Foods, which it already owns; it will stream Major League Baseball games; it will launch more than 3,000 satellites into orbit to supply the world with high-speed internet.

Bezos loves the word relentless—it appears again and again in his closely read annual letters to shareholders—and I had always assumed that his aim was domination for its own sake. In an era that celebrates corporate gigantism, he seemed determined to be the biggest of them all. But to say that Bezos’s ultimate goal is dominion over the planet is to misunderstand him. His ambitions are not bound by the gravitational pull of the Earth.

There’s a “pullquote” — a sentence printed in headline-sized font to grab and hold readers’ attention — from this article that I noticed and focused on because it contained the word “dysfunction” (You can tell I’ve been a Redskins fan for a long time).

Here’s the quote that caught my eye:


In contrast to the dysfunction and cynicism that define the times, Amazon is the embodiment of competence, the rare institution that routinely works.


Wow!

Can you imagine if the guy that inspired that quote took charge of the Redskins!?

The article is looooong, and you have to get pretty far into it (maybe 6,000 words) to get to this part:

Despite his investments in the institution, Bezos’s transition to Washington, D.C., was halting and awkward. It took him several months to visit the Post newsroom and try to allay rank-and-file nervousness about the intentions of the new owner. When the Post’s great editor Ben Bradlee died several months into his regime, he decided to attend the funeral only after Bob Woodward explained its spiritual significance. His attachment to the paper didn’t seem to acquire emotional depth until he sent his jet to retrieve the reporter Jason Rezaian from Iran, where he’d been imprisoned for 18 months, and personally accompanied him home. The press hailed Bezos for displaying such a strong interest in the fate of his reporter, a taste of how media extol those they regard as their own saviors.

It may have taken him a moment to realize that Washington would be a new center of his life, but once he did, he rushed to implant himself there. In 2016, he paid $23 million to buy the site of a former museum just down the block from Woodrow Wilson’s old home. The museum had joined together two mansions, one of which had been designed by John Russell Pope, the architect of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. Bezos kept one of the buildings as his residential quarters and set about renovating the other for the sake of socializing, a space that seemed to self-consciously recall Katharine Graham’s old salon, except with geothermal heat. Washingtonian magazine, which obtained Bezos’s blueprints, predicted that, once complete, it will become “a veritable Death Star of Washington entertaining.”

I include this to point out that Bezos — while not a native to the area — has become what so many others have over the years; that is, a transplanted DC resident. And he seems to have strongly committed to the area.

Now come the reports that Bezos wants to be an NFL owner, and the league’s owners want him:

Multi-billionaire Jeff Bezos has interest in purchasing an NFL team and has become close with several current owners, according to league sources, and has strong support within the league to eventually join their ranks. Bezos, the Amazon mogul who also owns the Washington Post, has spend considerable time around owners, including Washington’s Dan Snyder, and is in the process of moving to Washington.

Powerful owners like Jerry Jones believe he would be a great addition to the NFL, to say nothing of the ability to pay top dollar, in cash, for a franchise to his liking as they become available.

Bezos’ move to Washington is creating a stir in that area, as is his ties to Snyder. Snyder has been trying for years to get a state-of-the-art downtown stadium built in DC, growing increasingly frustrated by the location and age of FedEx Field. Bezos moved the Washington Post to a new location after purchasing the paper, is setting up an Amazon hub in the area and some believe could aid Snyder’s pursuit of a new stadium, perhaps even with an Amazon sponsorship.

This raises the question of which franchise, exactly, Bezos could acquire.

The options are limited

A pair of articles I read each pointed out there are no teams currently being offered for sale, but that this situation could soon change.

Both articles pointed to the Seattle Seahawks, with FoxBusiness.com making the most pointed observation:

Seattle could be the perfect locale for Bezos’ reported NFL aspirations, since Amazon’s headquarters is located in the city.

The CBS article by Jason LaCanfora mentions the Denver Broncos, and points out that “there is considerable concern in the league office about the mounting lawsuits from various heirs to former Broncos owner Pat Bowlen, with that team possibly heading to the market in a few years as well.”

But the fact that Bezos is setting up shop in DC, that he owns the Washington Post, and there are reports of a growing relationship between him and Redskins owner Dan Snyder have generated a buzz about the possibility of Bezos buying the Washington Redskins.

Were it to happen, that could be really good news for Redskins fans for a number of reasons:

  1. It would mean the end of the Dan Snyder era
  2. Bezos has a rich history of success in multiple endeavors across a range of industries, many of them unrelated to each other
  3. Bezos is a busy man who would be unlikely to have much interest in meddling with the affairs of the football team

All in all, he could represent the ideal owner for the Redskins, whose fans have been thirsting for a change in ownership for a long time, and would probably welcome Bezos as a savior even if they didn’t admire his politics or his business practices.

But there’s a problem.

Dan Snyder doesn’t want to sell the team

Let’s face it, Dan Snyder is living his fantasy. He owns a team that has multiplied in value by 400% in the two decades that he’s owned it. He belongs to a 32-member club of billionaires that he doesn’t want to quit.

His entire identity as a man is probably wrapped up in the organization that he managed to purchase in 1999.

It seems likely that he’s only leaving his position with the Redskins in a coffin. It’s almost unimaginable that he would voluntarily give up the very thing that defines him and fulfills his childhood dreams.

But I don’t think that’s necessarily the end of it.

The cat, as my blessed granny used to say, can be skinned in more than one way.

Sell The Team

How a deal could be structured

Let’s imagine for a moment that a few parameters could be shoved around, and that a few people would be willing to compromise for the sake of, if nothing else, money.

Let’s say that Jeff Bezos is sufficiently motivated to become an NFL owner that he might consider some creative options, and sufficiently disinterested in the day-to-day running of the organization that he didn’t want to give it the full-time attention that most NFL owners have to commit to.

Finally, let’s imagine that Jeff Bezos is more committed to Washington DC as the center of his world than he is to Seattle.

Where could that lead us?

I’m gonna try to be brief here, because I’m just spitballing. A real deal would be complicated and involve a lot of structuring. It might happen for cash or existing owners could be paid in, for example, Amazon stock. But regardless of how it happens, I want to offer a simple outline of what a complicated deal could look like.

Jeff and Dan can enter into a partnership where Jeff becomes the majority partner, but Dan stays on as the minority partner.

Wikipedia says that Dan Snyder owns 65% of the team, with three minority partners owning the other 35%. I’m not certain that’s correct, but I can’t find a more authoritative source, so let’s work with that idea.

Let’s imagine that Jeff Bezos buys the three minority shareholders out entirely. Why would they sell? Money. These guys can get real liquid real fast. Anyway, it’s just a blog article, so work with me. The minority partners sell.

That’s not good enough for me, and I doubt it’ll be good enough for most of the rest of the Redskins fan base. We want Snyder gone. If he isn’t, he at least needs to be taken out as majority shareholder and decision-maker.

So, I’m going to have Jeff Bezos also buy 20% of Dan’s share of the Redskins. Dan gets liquid; Bezos becomes the majority shareholder and decision-maker. Additionally, Bezos uses his resources to retire any debt that the organization currently has.

Very likely, the Redskins organization becomes more profitable, as Wikipedia also reports that the organization pays finance fees of $50m per year from the 1999 purchase. There is a chance that Snyder’s 45% share of a debt-free franchise might be as annually lucrative as his current 65%.

In my proposed structure, the Redskins ownership simplifies:

  • 55% Jeff Bezos
  • 45% Dan Snyder

Bezos has final say on any and all matters from the color of the drapes to the hiring of the General Manager and Head Coach.

Benefits for the organization (and for fans)

Imagine if the Redskins were to return to a level of competence where we could proudly say that the Redskins franchise is the embodiment of competence, an institution that routinely works. It’s been so long since that’s been true that most Redskins fans appear to believe that it’s a bar to high to jump over anymore.

A strong leader — and by this I mean Jeff Bezos — could do what he’s done with the other organizations he’s developed or taken over; he could hire competent people, listen to them, apply successful organizational practices, and consistently compete at the highest level.

The Redskins could return to being a model organization.

What’s in it for Snyder?

Dan would just have to swallow a little pride to make this happen.

He could still have an office with a corner window at Redskins Park. He could still hand out his business card and talk about ‘his’ Redskins.

Snyder could still sit in the owner’s box and hobnob with celebrities.

Dan could even hang around and talk to the players and coaches — as long as it was clear to everyone that Jeff Bezos was the real power in the organization, and that the GM, coaches and players weren’t beholden to Snyder in any way.

Dan would still be able to do most of the fun things he does now; he simply wouldn’t have any actual authority. His written agreement with Bezos could even have a buyout clause where Snyder could be ejected if he stepped out of line or caused problems in any way.

What’s in it for Bezos?

An NFL team is a valuable appreciating asset. The Redskins are so far down at the moment that the upside potential is bigger than for most other franchises.

Bezos is in the process of becoming a prominent DC resident. He owns the Washington Post. What better way to cement his position in the city than by rescuing the Redskins?

In the same way that Robert Kraft has integrated Gillette with the Patriots, Bezos could integrate Amazon with the Redskins.

Bezos has broadcast media, print media, and the largest retail marketing organization in the world. I have no doubt that he would find ways to create mutually beneficial business relationships that would enhance the brand.

Poll

Would you support an arrangement that left Snyder in a minority ownership position?

This poll is closed

  • 92%
    Yes
    (565 votes)
  • 7%
    No
    (44 votes)
609 votes total Vote Now