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ESPN story provides a gold mine of information about the Commanders franchise and the new owners’ expectations

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Seth Wickersham and John Keim published a story on ESPN on Tuesday that offers detailed insight into the financial details of the Washington Commanders in recent years, and the expectations of managing partner Josh Harris as expressed in a prospectus he prepared to support his search for limited partners to join him in his bid to buy the Commanders.

Here is a summary of some of the most interesting points discussed in the story:

  • ESPN says: “The Commanders think Virginia ‘will offer the best incentive package - potentially up to $1.5 billion’ for a new home, the document shows. That sum would nearly double the American-record $750 million in public funds the state of Nevada put toward a new Raiders stadium in 2017.”
  • In 2023, Commanders earned $173 million from tickets, sponsorships, parking and other team activities. Harris projects that to rise to $380 million by the 2031 season, with upside to $466 million with a new stadium.
  • ESPN says: “Several league and ownership sources have said that if not for the disdain for Snyder driving the sale, there’s no way owners would approve Harris’ bid. ‘It’s taking some creative financing,’ an owner told ESPN. But ESPN sources believe a quick rebound is likely because ‘fans…love the team but hate Snyder’.”
  • Gate revenue fell to $58m in 2022; Harris projects an increase to $127m by the 2031 season, with total revenue climbing from $545m in ’22 to $959m in 2032 (or over $1 billion with a new stadium).
  • Fans are described as “disengaged”, but the prospectus adds that, “the team’s passionate fan base, historical loyalty and strong market suggest there is ample room to grow”.
  • Harris assumes that $100m will be needed for “immediate structural repairs” and maintenance of FedEx Field, plus another $43m to upgrade boxes and suites.
  • Naming rights are listed as an opportunity area, with the expectation that the current deal for $7.6m per year can be upgraded to a new deal worth $30m annually, and potentially much more because of the robust DC market.
  • ESPN says: “The prospectus estimates that the team will have a new stadium by 2031 — with ‘potential to move into a new stadium earlier’ — a departure from the 2027-28 targets that some Commanders executives have privately offered for years.”
  • Harris predicts that Virginia will offer the best incentives for the new stadium, estimating that the state might offer up to $1.5 billion, yet identifies both Fed Ex Field and RFK as potential sites for the new stadium.
  • ESPN says: “A source with intimate knowledge of the complications and dynamics in getting a stadium built believe that 2031 is too optimistic, given that the team has no site, no deal, and no financing - and that Harris’ group is believed to not have the ability to write a check for a new stadium.”
  • The value of the FedEx Field site is estimated at $284m; the land that houses the practice fields is valued at about $441m.
  • The Commanders owe $1b to the NFL. No terms of the debt are discussed in the prospectus.
  • The prospectus also discusses revenue from broadcast right for the NFL, and suggests that sports betting could add $10m to $15m annually.

This is a wonderfully detailed article that I highly recommend as reading for anyone interested in the sale of the Commanders. The item that made the biggest impact on me was the discussion of stadium completion. The Harris prospectus discusses the 2031-32 season as the target date, but the ESPN article quotes at least one source as saying that the time frame is unrealistic — in other words, the source believes that the stadium will be completed much later than the ‘31 season.