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Poll: Who will own the Commanders in 2023? 12 potential buyers for you to vote for

Poll questions!!

Welcome to SB Nation Reacts, a survey of fans across the NFL. Throughout the year we ask questions of the most plugged-in Washington Commanders fans and fans across the country. Sign up here to participate in regular email surveys.

Of course we have our regular question about fan confidence in this week’s poll, but the focus this week is on the countdown that is measurable in weeks, or even days, to the end of our long nightmare, when Dan Snyder finally does the right thing and sells the team.

Today, we ask two questions:

Who do you WANT to buy the team?

Who do you EXPECT to buy the team?

There are limitations to online polling, so we aren’t really asking for nominations or accepting write-in suggestions. The fact is, when you put a price tag of $6 or $7 billion on a team and say that the lead owner needs to have a minimum 30% stake in it, and then impose debt limits, the pool of potential buyers is pretty limited.

I’m sure that there are interested parties and potential buyers out there who will surface between now and January that I know nothing about today, but I’ve scoured news reports to come up with a list of a dozen possibilities, and even that list feel to me like it is too long. I imagine that, in the end, there won’t be more than perhaps a half dozen serious contenders to purchase the Washington DC NFL franchise.

Before we get to the poll questions themselves, I will offer a short precis on each of the 12 contenders so you know who you are voting for.

Jeff Bezos & Jay-Z (maybe others)

Bezos has been on the radar for years as a potential buyer of the team when the time finally came, and, as the owner of the Washington Post, might well be seen as a prime mover in the events that have brought Dan Snyder from unmitigated public defiance to capitulation.

Bezos is probably best-known as the founder, executive chairman, and former president and CEO of Amazon, although locally, he is well-known as the owner of the Washington Post newspaper, which he bought in 2013 for the measly sum of $250 million.

In September, 2000, Bezos founded Blue Origin, a human spaceflight startup. On July 20, 2021, he launched on the NS-16 mission with his half-brother Mark Bezos and two others, adding “astronaut” to his list of achievements.

Jeff Bezos’ wealth varies, of course, from moment to moment when the stock market is open, but according to Forbes, he had a net worth exceeding $200 billion. He should have no trouble financing a purchase priced in the range of the Washington Commanders football franchise.

As mentioned above, Bezos has been seen as a potential buyer of the team for some time, and he quickly emerged at the top of the list of potential candidates almost from the moment the sale was announced.

A bit more surprising was how quickly he was linked to Jay-Z, an American rapper, record producer, entrepreneur, and founder of Manhattan-based conglomerate talent and entertainment agency Roc Nation. Jay-Z is also well-known for being in a long-standing relationship with Beyonce Knowles; the couple are parents to twins who were born in 2017.

Jay-Z has been hanging around NFL owners for a few years now, looking for a way into the club, and it appears as if he and Jeff Bezos have agreed to partner up in the effort to buy the Commander. No doubt, having a minority owner who would be a minority owner will make it more palatable for the NFL to consider selling to Bezos at a time when the league is under a lot of pressure to diversify ownership from its demographic that is overwhelmingly older, whiter and maler than the general population — though that comes with the territory of being a billionaire in America.

Jay-Z is not simply some token minority to make the bid look good, however. He has earned his chops in the media industry, launching an online digital magazine and working in the production area of the TV and movie industries. Jay-Z founded an urban clothing line, Rocawear, and eventually sold the rights to the clothing line for over $200 million. In 2013, Jay-Z launched a sports agency, RocNation, to represent professional athletes.

This week, TMZ reported that the two billionaires were seen having an extended dinner together in LA on Monday night, apparently going over plans for their intended purchase of the Commanders. Undoubtedly, there will be a few other people in the ownership group — Mathhew McConaughy’s name surfaced a few days ago as one possibility, but this bid, which we’ve been told will be presented in January, will have be headlined by Jeff Bezos & Jay-Z.

So far, this pair has gotten favorite’s odds on all online betting sites, though a number of people are skeptical of Bezos’ chances, saying that Dan Snyder personally hates Bezos due to the constant negative reporting on Snyder by the Washington Post, and that Dan is vindictive enough to simply refuse to sell to Bezos. Others mention a “Bezos premium” that could be paid to turn the bid into a so-called Godfather offer (the kind that you can’t refuse). In any event, it may not be as straightforward as just outbidding the competition.

Byron Allen

Allen is a media mogul who has long expressed a desire to own an NFL team. If he successfully bought the team, he would become the first majority Black owner in NFL history. The 61-year-old Detroit native, is a former comedian, who made appearances on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show in the 1980s. After a career as a television producer, he founded Allen Media and now owns the Weather Channel.

Allen was a bidder for the Denver Broncos, which was sold to the Walton Group just prior to the 2022 season. Here is a profile of Allen that was written prior to that sale.

Allen is very familiar with sports negotiations. He has been heavily involved in acquiring television rights and expanding, with the NY Post detailing his $8 billion pursuit to acquire Tegna after a $10 billion sports network deal secured him strong returns in 2019.

According to Bloomberg, Allen’s group will include prominent figures from Hollywood, Wall Street along with members of the sports and business world. A source close to the effort told Bloomberg that the group would put down approximately 75% of the price in liquid assets.

While money will be a crucial factor in determining who becomes the next Denver Broncos owner, Allen already has support inside the league. He shared that his decision to bid on the Broncos comes just a few years after Goodell and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft encouraged him to buy a club.

“NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft came to me in November of 2019 and asked me to take a good look at buying an NFL team.”

‘Listen, buying an NFL football team is a process and we had the pleasure of being a part of that process,’ Allen told TMZ in August. ‘We didn’t get this one, but I’m highly confident we’ll get the next one.

Josh Harris

Josh Harris is a 57-year-old billionaire American private equity investor and philanthropist who co-founded Apollo Global Management, one of the world’s largest alternative investment firms. Harris is the principal owner and managing partner of the New Jersey Devils of the National Hockey League and the Philadelphia 76ers of the National Basketball Association, and is a general partner in Crystal Palace of the English Premier League.

Bloomberg estimated his net worth to be around US$7.05 billion in July 2021.

Harris lives in Miami, and would clearly be more of a hands-off owner with interests in many different sports teams compared to the first two potential buyers profiled above, but he has extensive experience as the owner of sports franchises and would likely bring a professional sport approach to the Washington Commanders organization that has been absent for a long time.

Harris was another bidder in the recent sale of the Denver Broncos. Fansided recently detailed his ongoing interest in the purchase of an NFL franchise:

Harris ultimately lost out to the Walton-Penner family ownership group, but Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio reported Harris would have paid $5 billion for the Broncos if he knew that would get the deal done. The Commanders will likely go up for up $7 billion, but a $5 billion down payment (just typing that is crazy) with a partnership group coughing up the rest of the cash is more than feasible for Harris.

Check out Florio’s reporting on Harris’ ambition to own an NFL team.

So why didn’t Harris go to $5 billion and force Walton-Penner to go higher? Harris, we’re told, intends to pursue another NFL franchise. Thus, there was no reason to drive up the price of the Broncos, when that becomes the precedent for the next transaction.

The bottom line is that Harris is ready to pay $5 billion to buy an NFL franchise. He didn’t officially offer $5 billion for the Broncos because they couldn’t guaranteed it would have gotten him the team. If another team wants to sell to Harris for $5 billion, now’s the time to give him a call.

If we had to put our money on it — let’s call it a cool $5 — we’d say Harris is the most likely candidate to rival Bezos to buy the Commanders.

Mat Ishbia

Ishbia (I, unfortunately, misspelled his surname in the poll below) is the chairman and CEO of Michigan-based mortgage lender United Wholesale Mortgage, now UWM Holdings, founded by his father Jeff in 1986. He has a net worth of $4.6 billion, as estimated by Forbes.

Ishbia has expressed interest in purchasing the Washington Commanders, “The NFL is a great league and Washington is one of the elite franchises,” Ishbia said in a statement issued to The Washington Post through a spokesperson. “I am interested in exploring this opportunity further in the very near future.”

Ishbia bid on the Denver Broncos when they were put up for sale by the Pat Bowlen Trust, so he is actively looking to join the NFL owners club. With a price tag that will probably be well-north of $6 billion, the purchase of the Commanders is likely to be a tougher deal to complete than the Broncos purchase would have been, and the need to almost immediately secure a site and finance a new stadium would be complicating factors, but Ishbia works in the finance industry, which may give him an advantage in both the purchase attempt and the resolution of the stadium issue that looms on the immediate horizon.

Ishbia’s passion for sports has been clear in his dealings with his alma mater; he made a record $32 million donation to Michigan State’s athletic department in 2021. Most of that was aimed to fund a new football building.

Ishbia’s Michigan State contributions also include signing the school’s entire football, basketball (men’s and women’s) and volleyball teams to name, image and likeness deals, and funding a $95 million contract for head football coach Mel Tucker.

Ishbia, who is in his early 40s, lives in the midwest and clearly has other business interests, but seems very keen to push his way into the NFL owner’s club. I get the feeling that he’ll keep showing up for every team sale until he wins a bid, which could be as soon as the start of 2023.

Robert Smith

According to Boardroom, there have been conflicting reports about Vista Equity Partners Chairman and CEO Robert F. Smith’s interest in buying an NFL team. While several outlets reported that Smith, a Denver native, was interested in buying the Broncos, others insisted that purchasing a sports team is not on his mind. Regardless, Smith has no shortage of funds to be a potential owner. Bloomberg’s billionaire index has clocked Smith at $11.9 billion, a mark that makes becoming a majority owner of an NFL team an achievable feat should a concrete opportunity arise.

Smith had the backing of Goodell early in the Denver bidding process and wound up dropping out. Is there still a chance he could become the NFL’s first Black majority owner? It’s possible, but seems less likely than several other candidates; after all, would the Commanders be more attractive to him than his hometown Broncos?

Clearlake Capital

According to Spots Illustrated, Clearlake Capital, led by Jose Feliciano and Behdad Eghbali, was another of the Denver bidders to top $4 billion, and they’d have the financial wherewithal to be in it until the end for the Commanders.

Clearlake is, in a sense, just the money. They could provide funding for a group with a specific individual as the headline investor. For example, the list of potential buyers in our poll includes Todd Boehly; Clearlake Capital provided most of the funding when Boehly completed an ownership takeover of the Chelsea Football Club earlier this year.

Whether they end up identified as the principle owner, or simply show up as a major equity partner in a purchase that is headlined by a different individual, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Clearlake Capital end up as a significant part of the ownership of the Commanders when all is said and done.

David Blitzer

Blitzer partnered with Josh Harris in the unsuccessful bid for the Denver Broncos earlier this year, and he could do so again in the attempt to purchase the Commanders. But Blitzer could also make an attempt to buy the team himself.

The first paragraph of Blitzer’s Wikipedia page says that he is a co-managing partner and minority owner of the New Jersey Devils of the National Hockey League, Philadelphia 76ers of the National Basketball Association, Cleveland Guardians of Major League Baseball, Crystal Palace F.C. of the English Premier League, FC Augsburg of the Bundesliga, ADO Den Haag of the Keuken Kampioen Divisie, Waasland-Beveren of the Belgian Jupiler Pro League, Real Salt Lake of Major League Soccer, the Scranton Wilkes/Barre RailRiders of the Triple-A International League, esport company Dignitas, and a senior executive at the private equity firm Blackstone Group.

Obviously, Blitzer is a guy who believes in holding a portfolio of professional sports teams. Given his ‘portfolio’ approach, it seems more likely that Blitzer would show up as a minority partner in a bid for the Commanders, but BetOnline has Blitzer listed with 20/1 odds of being the next owner of the team; that puts him in 10th position on a list that is topped by Jeff Bezos at 2/1.

Mark Walter & Todd Boehy

I mentioned Boehy above in the discussion of Clearlake Capital. Per Sports Illustrated, Boehly and Mark Walter, owners of the Dodgers baseball team, were also “deep in the Denver bidding”.

They bought the English Premier League’s Chelsea earlier this year and, again per SI, “gobbled up a minority stake in the Lakers” last year, so their experience with legacy sports brands would be attractive to other owners looking for a peer to maximize the Commanders’ potential.

Boehy, who is 49 years old, grew up in the DC area and went to the College of William & Mary. Mark Walter is in his early 60s, and is the chief executive officer of Guggenheim Partners, a privately held global financial services firm with more than $325 billion in assets under management and headquarters in Chicago and New York.

As already mentioned, it’s possible that Walter and Boehly team up for this one with the Clearlake Capital team.

When Boehy purchased Chelsea FC a few months ago, MARCA, a European football website, wrote about him:

Boehly is already a part-owner of both the Los Angeles Lakers and the Los Angeles Dodgers. He holds a 27 percent stake in the Lakers and a 20 percent stake in the Dodgers. A successful businessman, has previously revealed some of his strategies and keys to his success.

“When I’m negotiating, the objective isn’t to get the best deal for myself but for all parties,” Boehly said at a school reunion in Maryland in the past, as quoted by the Daily Mail. “Most people try to wring every penny for themselves. That strategy earns them more money on one specific deal, but it doesn’t build trust or long-lasting relationships.”

After graduating with a degree in finance, Boehly’s career began as CS First Boston in New York in 1996, a division of Credit Suisse. He then moved to JH Witney & Co and then to Guggenheim Partners in 2001.

He has worked alongside Mark Walter for a considerable length of time, with the latter also part of the Chelsea consortium. wrote in some detail about Walter:

The 62-year-old has a net worth of just over £3.3 billion and could well be the difference in beating opposition bids. Boehly was at Stamford Bridge for Wednesday’s Champions League clash and reportedly stayed on for meetings with Chelsea executives on Thursday.

Walter is a billionaire born in Iowa and is now the chief executive of the aforementioned project. Guggenheim Partners are made up of Boehly, Walter, tennis legend Billie Jean King and Basketball icon Magic Johnson, as well as other wealthy investors.

In December 2012, Walter was named as the eighth most influential person in sport business by SportsBusiness Journal thanks to his work with the Dodgers. It is Walter who remains the controlling owner of the MLB side, not Boehly.

Michael Dell

Sports Illustrated lists Dell as one of the potential buyers for the Commanders:

Austin technology magnate Michael Dell is another of the super-wealthy (his net worth is said to approach $50 billion) who’s shown an interest in getting involved in the NFL, and he would check a lot of boxes for the other owners.

He shows up surprisingly high on the listed betting odds at 12/1:

The 57-year-old Dell is, of course, well known in the tech industry. He is the founder, chairman, and CEO of Dell Technologies, one of the world’s largest technology infrastructure companies. He was ranked the 24th richest person in the world by Bloomberg Billionaires Index, with a net worth of $45 billion as of October 2022.

In 2011, his 243.35 million shares of Dell stock were worth $3.5 billion, giving him 12% ownership of the company. His remaining wealth of roughly $10 billion is invested in other companies and is managed by MSD Capital, which incorporates his initials. In January 2013 it was announced that he had bid to take Dell Inc. private for $24.4 billion in the biggest management buyout since the Great Recession. The company once again went public in December 2018.

Clearly, Dell has the financial wherewithal to purchase the Commanders, but I’m not sure if he has the interest. He lives in Texas, and I’m not aware of any specific reasons, beyond his obvious wealth, for him to be interested in buying the team except for an interview he gave to CNBC last year, in which he expressed interest in possibly buying a sports team.

Q: You bought a minority stake in the San Antonio Spurs recently. I’m curious if you’d ever consider being a majority owner of a sports franchise?

I consider a lot of things.

Q: Does that one strike you as something you’d enjoy doing?

Why don’t you ask me if and when that occurs.

Q: That does not sound like a no.

If your question is, ‘is it within the realm of possibility that I might acquire a sports team?’ I’m not talking about a particular sports team. I’m certainly not talking about the San Antonio Spurs or any particular league. Yeah, I mean, anything’s possible.

Steve Paliuca

Paliuca’s name was brought up by Sports Illustrated as a “dark horse” candidate, though he has 15/1 odds in the tweet posted above. Basically, he’s another private-equity guy (Bain Capital) with money — online estimates of his net worth are around $3.7 billion — who is already in a high-profile ownership position in professional American sports as the managing general partner and member of the executive committee of the Boston Celtics, and a member of the Board of Governors and the Competition Committee for the National Basketball Association.

Ted Lerner

Lerner will be very familiar to DC Sports fans as the owner of the Washington Nationals MLB team, and as a partner in Monumental Sports & Entertainment, which owns the NHL Washington Capitals, the WNBA Washington Mystics, NBA Washington Wizards, and Capital One Arena.

I suspect readers of Hogs Haven will already be very familiar with Lerner and have their own opinions of him as an owner. It does seem to be worthwhile mentioning that the Nationals, Capitals and Mystics have all won league championships since 2018.

Matthew McConaughy

McConaughy’s name popped up in the media just about the time I was putting together these poll questions. Initial reports linked him to the Bezos/Jay-Z partnership as a minority partner, but as the reporting developed, it seemed as if McConaughy was simply floating his interest, and there were reports that he might try to head up his own group.

NBC Washington reported that:

McConaughey is “exploring that possibility either leading a team or joining one” in a bid to purchase the embattled and storied NFL franchise, the source added. The actor is in the “early stages and is looking at all his options,” according to the source.

I’ve included him here as a polling option for anyone who would like to see him as the headline name in an ownership group that would clearly need to be backed by someone else’s money.

Results & discussion

We’ll publish results of the survey before Sunday’s game against the Vikings.

Feel free to leave comments below, as I rely on them when I report the survey results.