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Commanders fans know long-awaited change is coming; they both hope for and expect Jeff Bezos to be their savior

It can’t happen soon enough

Dan Snyder has owned the Washington NFL franchise for 23 years. During those 23 years, he has turned winning coaches into losers. He has drained the home stadium of fans and seating, and then half-filled what was left with opposing fans.

Dan Snyder took over a franchise that had a regular season record of 461-410-27, and pushed that all-time record to where it now sits, 3 games below .500.

Dan Snyder bought a franchise in 1999 that boasted 5 World Championships, including 3 Lombardi trophies. In the 23 years since he took over, that team has made 6 playoff appearances and managed to win only a single playoff game...17 years ago.

Dan Snyder’s list of sins, though, is far more egregious than simply putting losing football teams on the field in place of the champions that had graced it before his arrival — through his arrogance, ineptitude and lack of grace, Dan Snyder turned one of the most valuable and respected sports franchises in the world into a punch line for every bad joke imaginable.

His specific list of sins is far too long to catalogue here, but it’s easy to look at the results of his 23 years of mismanagement and infer what must’ve been happening inside the walls of his crumbling castle for more than 2 decades. Since the 1st of January, 2020, we’ve learned a lot, almost none of it good.

With a series of investigative articles by the Washington Post about what had been happening inside those walls during Dan’s reign, horrible work practices were exposed. We got stories of women being routinely told how to dress (a bit sexy), troubling tales of cheerleaders being treated more like sex workers than team representatives, with Snyder and his cronies producing videos of them changing clothes at an island photo shoot. We heard stories of a locker room atmosphere where younger staff were belittled by the owner and senior executives between rounds of putt putt golf on the carpeted floors of the office or afternoon drinks in the leather sofas and armchairs. These and other stories came out in a seeming unending stream, a nearly unbelievable account of business practices in 21st century America.

Investigations were undertaken. First was the NFL’s Beth Wilkinson investigation. Its results must’ve been horribly embarrassing because the league buried them, refusing to allow the lead investigator to submit a written report or make recommendations about what should happen to Dan Snyder, the lead slimeball. Congress, knowing a coverup when they saw one, undertook an investigation of workplace practices that included depositions, testimony and a “round table” discussion in which some of what Beth Wilkinson must have heard was brought to light.

It was enough to spark yet another investigation by the NFL, this one headed by Mary Jo White (it is still ongoing), and to prompt the Attorneys General from several state and local jurisdictions to announce investigations into either workplace practices, financial improprieties, or both. The Washington DC Attorney General added to the fray this week when he announced that his office had filed a civil lawsuit against the team for its misdeeds.

Along the way, multiple senior team executives — many of whom had been in the team offices for most of the past 2 decades — were either fired or forced to resign under pressure and in disgrace.

But even the new executives brought into replace them haven’t really changed the results.

Early in 2020, Dan Snyder caved in to pressure from many fronts and changed the name of the team from the longstanding Redskins moniker — first to the placeholder Washington Football Team name, and then, this year, to the Commanders. Having stumbled into a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to manage a rebrand of an NFL team and reignite the passions of a slowly dying fan base, Snyder and his top-tier executive bunglers instead managed to fall face first into the mud of a mangled parody of fan engagement that ended up with a divided and listless fanbase that suddenly found themselves saddled with a generic brand made up of mismatched parts and pieces. The team’s identity, once personified by an iconic image of a proud and strong warrior and chieftain, is now reduced and wrapped up in an oddly stylized “W”. Twice this season, fans have had to watch their team take the field, not in beloved and iconic burgundy & gold, but in a Steelers-style black and mustard uniform that simply doesn’t look like anyone’s image of what used to be Washington football.

This was the product of the new executives working under Dan Snyder’s “leadership”. Anyone who has been following the team recently knows about the (relatively) smaller embarrassments, like the inability to spell London Fletcher’s name correctly on the scoreboard on a day when he was honored at the stadium, or the Sean Taylor number retirement, which was announced just 3 days prior to the event, and which was notable for such gaffes as having Taylor’s family pose for a photo in front of the porta-potties.

Moreover, this season, when the team launched its “90 Greatest” initiative to honor the 90 greatest figures in the team’s 90-year history, the online web pages that were posted to honor those franchise legends were riddled with unbelievable errors of fact, and even had pictures of former players in the uniforms of other teams. When an uproar predictably ensued, the new leader of the team, its President and supposed communications professional, Jason Wright, engaged in blame-shifting, saying that his team hadn’t been responsible for the mistakes since they had simply reformatted information that had been posted on the team’s website for years.

Jason Wright can hardly be blamed for the inability to accept responsibility or communicate professionally; deflection, blame shifting and personal attacks are standard communication tactics employed by Dan Snyder’s ‘empire’. We were brutally reminded of that this week when a team spokesman responded to a tweet announcing a press conference sent out by the office of the Washington DC Attorney General with an outrageous official statement that criticized the city and city officials for allowing gun violence in the streets that led to rookie running back Brian Robinson being shot during an attempted carjacking two months ago, and scolding the AG for spending time investigating the Commanders organization instead of controlling street crime. It all unfolded quickly, and fairly late in the evening, but the groundswell of negative response to the team’s official statement was so powerful that even a practiced blame-shifter and deflector like President Jason Wright realized that his boss had gone too far (yet again) and, just before midnight in DC, issued a fresh statement from the team attempting to somehow distance the team from its own earlier official statement.

What is so stunning about how those events unfolded is that, after 23 years of this sort of ineptitude, it all seemed somehow normal for the leaders of this franchise. It’s become what is expected. The only thing that can consistently be expected of Washington’s ownership and front office leadership is chaos.

It’s so bad, that even one of the team’s second-year defensive players commented on the ongoing dysfunction and its effect in the wake of this week’s Three Stooges slapstick.

Washington football fans can understand the young man’s frustration. I imagine that most of us would add that it hasn’t been just since BSJ arrived that there’s been “a dark cloud over our organization”; that has been the situation for two decades or longer.

Coach Ron Rivera traveled to California this week to attend his mother’s funeral, and had to answer questions about the owner’s antics on his return. In an all-too-common refrain, the head coach had to plead with reporters to let the coaches and the team “just focus on what we do”. Is it any wonder that no coach or roster has been able to build sustained success under Dan Snyder given the added challenges that come along with working for someone like him?

Anyone who has ever seen the original Star Wars movie will be familiar with the scene in which R2D2 plays a hologram of Princess Leia pleading, “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.” Leia calls it “our most desperate hour”.

That is the image that runs in my mind when I think of Washington football fans in recent times. Each day, each hour that Dan Snyder owns the football team that so many of us care about is another day, another hour of desperation. We’ve been looking for a way out, and for years there seemed to be no hope at all.

But the dam finally cracked, and no little Dutch boy with his finger in the hole can stop the torrent that is exploding all around Dan Snyder. Knowing he is about to be washed away by the force of 2 decades’ worth of bad karma, he has finally decided that it’s time to cut & run.

Dan Snyder is selling.

Ding dong, the witch is dead!

(Well, not quite, but things seem inevitable at this point)

With Dan Snyder’s departure now seemingly indelibly inked onto the schedule for early 2023, the question becomes: Who will take his place?

Who is our Obi Wan Kenobi? To whom will Washington fans entrust the next 30 years of our fandom?

In this week’s Reacts survey article, I outlined 12 individuals or groups who had been reported in recent days as potential buyers. Literally hours after I posted the survey, a new potential buyer — Red Sox owner John Henry — popped up on the radar. No doubt there will be others who will emerge as the bidding process takes shape over the coming weeks.

General consensus seems to be that bids for the team will be accepted in January, with the goal of finalizing the sale some time in March, possibly at the regularly scheduled owner’s meeting, although as far as I know, no official sale process has yet been announced. Those timeline expectations could be the product of sports radio call in shows and idle speculation.

But the change appears to be imminent.

After summarizing a list of 12 possible buyers, we asked Hogs Haven readers this week to identify who they PREFER to buy the team, and who they EXPECT to buy the team. The answer to the second question, at least, was no surprise given the reporting that has occurred around the impending sale in recent days.

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It has been widely reported that Amazon founder and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos and former rapper, current businessman and father to Beyonce’s children Jay-Z plan to partner up in a bid to purchase the Commanders.

In a world where “anyone not named Dan Snyder” has, for many years, generally been the answer to the question of who Washington fans want as the owner, suddenly, the question takes on real meaning.

The reported asking price is $7 billion. I had initially thought that the eventual selling price would likely start with a 6, but Front Office Sports is now reporting that they believe the price tag could approach $8 billion. That kind of price tag combined with the NFL’s anachronistic rules on ownership structures and debt limits shrinks the potential pool of buyers to just a handful of people.

Every online betting website that I have seen immediately installed Bezos & Jay-Z as the favorites to be the next owners of the franchise, and Hogs Haven readers are in tune with the gamblers on this one, with a majority (52%) saying that the Bezos partnership is their preferred option, and 72% saying that it is the one that they believe will be ultimately successful.

There are flies in the ointment, of course. There always are. The key issue in this case is that Dan Snyder reportedly hates Jeff Bezos, presumably because Bezos owns the newspaper that, more than anyone other than Dan Snyder himself, is responsible for the team owner’s current predicament. Many people believe that Dan Snyder simply will never agree to sell to Bezos under any circumstances. Others talk rather cavalierly of Bezos simply paying an “extra billion dollars” as a premium to secure his ownership, but it is seldom the practice of successful business people to overpay for an asset.

Another issue is that the NFL is under pressure to broaden the diversity its ownership; specifically, outsiders are looking for the NFL to add African-Americans to the ownership ranks. Having Jay-Z as part of the Bezos group is likely to be partly in response to this pressure, though Jay-Z is no token silent partner brought on just because of the color of his skin. He has been working for years to find a way into the NFL owners’ ranks, and he has a track record of success in building successful brands with a young, fresh image. He would likely be an active and valuable part of the team ownership, even as a minority partner.

But there are at least two other potential buyers — Byron Allen and Robert Smith — who don’t need to bring in minority partners to get a person of color added to the ownership, which may be an important factor in the final decision for the 31 owners who are not selling their franchises in the next 6 months.

And then there are the complications that surround the situation with the team’s home stadium. Whoever eventually wins the bidding process will need to have the financial wherewithal, political connections and organizational skills to immediately attack the issue of building a new stadium for the team. The lease on FedEx Field runs to 2027, and, while the stadium will come to the new owner along with the team, no one wants to see NFL games played there any longer than absolutely necessary. It is a stadium that has not aged well, and the ability to secure land and funding, and then put together a skilled team to organize construction of a new 21st century venue may be as important to the other NFL owners as the ability to cut a check for the purchase price will be to Dan Snyder, and that may further limit which interested buyers can see the process to the end. The overall commitment needed is probably closer to $10 billion than $7 billion when the stadium is factored into the equation.

The issues are complex; the price tag is high; the stadium issues are urgent, and the sale process and timing are still unclear, but it does seem certain that the Commanders will have a new owner before the 2023 season arrives.

It’s a day that fans of Washington football have been waiting and hoping for for years. There are people seriously talking about holding a parade in DC when the sale is finalized.

While it’s easy to say that “anyone will be better than Dan Snyder” (and most probably be correct in that assessment), such things are not certainties. Washington fans have paid a heavy price this century, and it seems only fair that we should be blessed with a new owner who will field a good team, run a good organization and build a state-of-the art stadium, but there’s no guarantee that any of that will happen.

I suspect that the popularity of Jeff Bezos in our poll has a lot to do with his wealth — he shouldn’t have any financial limitations in operating the team or building a new stadium — and his track record of success in multiple businesses.

But another factor is familiarity. Bezos & Jay-Z are names that fans know, which is quite different from the collection of mostly investment managers and other sports team owners who comprise most of the rest of the potential bidders. I don’t think it’s an accident that the two people who came 2nd & 3rd in the polling for preferred owner (Matthew McConaughey and Byron Allen) are individuals who became famous as entertainers. We all want to know the guy who will be the caretaker of “our” team is someone we can trust and believe in — especially after the past 23 years of disappointment and frustration.

The only things that seem certain are that it will be a joyous and welcome day when Dan Snyder is finally replaced as the team owner, and that that day can’t come soon enough.