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Could Jeff Bezos end up buying the Redskins?

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New York Jets v Washington Redskins Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

Unprecedented times call for unprecedented thought exercises, and we are most definitely in unprecedented times. In the past week, the Washington Redskins’ edifice, which was shaky to begin with, has been dealt successive damaging blows. First, there was a broad, public call to change the name. Then, sponsors, including FedEx, threatened to pull their funding. Shortly thereafter, Nike and others pulled Redskins’ merchandise from their stores, and most recently, the three minority shareholders in the team, Robert Rothman, Dwight Schar, and Frederick Smith, have made public their desire to sell their share (about 40%) of the team, in order to distance themselves from the growing mess and Dan Snyder’s incompetence.

Washington Redskins v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images

Midway through the fusillade described above, the Redskins put out a statement that they would “review” the name and Ron Rivera declared “it would be awesome” if the team changed its name before the season began. The only question on that front now is when, not if, the name will change. But this isn’t a “name change” article in any sense other than that the name changing could be the sort of cataclysmic event that triggers a much more dramatic change in the franchise.

Out with the Old

In 2003, Dan Snyder sold approximately 35-40% of the team to three individuals: 15% to Florida financier Robert Rothman (for around $200 million), 15% to real estate developer Dwight Schar (for around $200 million), and 5% to Frederick W. Smith, the CEO of FedEx (for around $67 million).

With the current value of the Redskins’ franchise placed at around $3.4 billion by Forbes, their share of approximately 40% is around $1.36 billion, suggesting that the minority partners’ investment has just about tripled in value - albeit without an inflation adjustment - during their tenure. That’s not bad for consistently fielding one of the worst teams in the NFL during those years.

The exact role the minority partners have played in directing the team over the past 17 years is unclear, but it’s curious that neither inept team management by the likes of Vinnie Cerrato and Bruce Allen, nor a pathetic record under their oversight (109-162-1, with one playoff victory), seem to have troubled them much. Regardless, they’ve got religion now, and according to media sources like Liz Clarke, they want out.


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Day Thirteen: The Championships - Wimbledon 2019 Photo by Simon Stacpoole/Offside/Getty Images

Bezos Wants a Football Team

Late last year, it was reported that Amazon CEO and billionaire businessman Jeff Bezos was looking to purchase an NFL team. Given his connection to Seattle, and the fact that the Seahawks’ former owner, Paul Allen, had recently passed away, the team was suggested by many as the most likely object of Bezos’ intentions. However, the Trust that currently owns the Seahawks, run by Allen’s sister, has declared that the team is not for sale, and nothing has come to fruition. So where does that put Bezos?

Jeff Bezos is currently the wealthiest person in America - even after carving off around 25% of his Amazon stock to his ex-wife last year - with a net worth of over $172 billion. That’s significantly more than the value of all the teams in the NFL combined. If Bezos wants to get into the league, money will be no obstacle. However, teams don’t come up for sale very often. Generally speaking, an NFL team is sold every 2 or 3 years, with the last sale being the Panthers in 2018 when Jerry Richardson sold the team in disgrace. Other teams with elderly owners, like the Lions, Cowboys, and the Bears, appear slated to stay within family ownership for at least another generation.

“The NFL could probably use him,” [Mark] Cuban said. “He’s smart. He’s successful. He’s got a lot of money. Those would be the requirements.”

Last year, at about the same time Bezos was being discussed as a possibility in Seattle, he was also being discussed in connection with the Redskins:

Bezos’ move to Washington is creating a stir in that area, as is his ties to [Redskins owner Dan] 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.

At that point, the angle was pitched as Bezos’ ability to potentially assist Snyder. That was well before the events of the last week.

“I’m almost certain most of the other owners and much of the league office would love the idea of [Bezos] buying the Washington Redskins,” [Mark] Leibovich, who wrote a terrific 2018 book about the league called Big Game, says when Washingtonian got him on the phone Monday. “But there’s one problem, and that’s to the best of my knowledge the Washington Redskins are not for sale.”

My how quickly things change. The Redskins - at least a big chunk of them - are now for sale. For Bezos, who already owns a mansion in Kalorama, and who not so long ago purchased the Washington Post, buying out the Three Amigos for a billion dollars and change almost seems like a no-brainer. Should that happen, I would argue, the die is then cast for him to eventually take over full ownership.

The wealthiest man in the country doesn’t want just a piece of a football team, and the most reviled non-politician in the DMV probably doesn’t possess the capital to prevent him from acquiring the rest of it for long. After all, the value of Snyder’s share of the team (~2 billion) is well below the bump in Bezos’ net worth after a decent day in the market. If he simply accepts the market price for his majority share of the organization, then after a receiving healthy payday for running a beloved franchise into the ground, Snyder can take his yacht and sail off into the sunset, and stay there.

What Would a Bezos-Owned Football Team Mean?

First, and probably most importantly for fans, it would mean the release from Dan Snyder’s Reign of Error. Snyder’s horrific ownership tenure puts him among the worst owners in the history of the game, and, as has been demonstrated elsewhere on this site, a track record as bad as Snyder’s first 20 years is almost never overcome as the owner grows older. The best chance for a change in direction comes from new ownership, a circumstance which has routinely turned team fortunes around.

Second, it would almost assuredly mean a re-branding of the team, which now seems like a foregone conclusion at any rate, but 6 months ago was sufficient grounds that some fans felt it was a basis for resisting an ownership change. Bezos is a man of the 21st century, and literally the most successful business person in the country. I suspect he would want the new brand to respect the franchise’s rich history, but look forward to the future as well. He certainly wouldn’t want to alienate potential consumers.

Third, Bezos would almost certainly want a crown jewel of stadium located in the heart of the metropolis he has made his home. And, there is strong reason to suspect the political forces in DC want a re-branded football team to end up there.

Amazon Field, on the banks of the Anacostia, ringed with a mixed use menagerie of restaurants, high end residential apartments and condos, as well as assorted community amenities would immediately become one of the top destinations - both for tourists and Washingtonians - in the City. It would be Chinatown on steroids, but with a side of chai tea and avocado toast to mellow it out a bit. And it would be completely networked. I envision it as an incubator for Amazon’s next generation ideas, sort of an East Coast campus for the retail/tech giant. The possibilities are endless.

Imagine a future where, instead of a shunned team, run by a reclusive owner who has fired or been abandoned by nearly all of his allies, the Washington football club is embraced as a team of young, up-and-coming superstars, coached by a man of integrity, working for an organization owned by one of the most respected and admired figures in American business. What seemed virtually impossible 9 months ago, could literally now be just months away. Hope springs eternal.


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