Feb 2, 2020; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta walks on the court during the game against the New Orleans Pelicans at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Tilman Fertitta is still in the running to buy the Washington Commanders from Daniel Snyder, one of the most despised owners in NFL history.
At the annual NFL meetings in Phoenix that start on Sunday, there’s nothing on the agenda about the Commanders’ sale, but there’s no doubt it’ll be discussed unofficially by the owners and commissioner Roger Goodell. They can’t wait to have a new owner for one of the league’s most storied franchises.
There’s no official timetable for the Commanders to be sold, but there are media reports the owners would like to have a solution to the Snyder problem by their spring meetings May 22-24 in Minneapolis. That might not be feasible because franchise sales are complicated and time-consuming. Snyder doesn’t appear to be in a hurry, and the owners have yet to try to force him out.
What a coup it would be if Fertitta is able to buy the Commanders. Three-quarters of the owners will have to approve the new owner. If Fertitta is successful, he’ll add the Commanders to his empire that includes the Rockets, and, hopefully, someday, a long-overdue National Hockey League franchise for Houston.
If Fertitta pulls it off over rival groups waving billions in Snyder’s face, he’ll immediately become the most popular owner in the NFL. If Fertitta’s $5.5 billion bid is enough to rid the NFL of the Snyder migraine, they’ll be popping Champagne corks and toasting him at the NFL’s Park Avenue offices. Goodell will turn cartwheels down the hallway.
Fertitta would be celebrated by his 31 new partners. They’d toast him for paying what could end up being at least $6 billion to get rid of Snyder, a headache that’s existed since he purchased the franchise in 1999 and won two playoff games over the last 24 seasons. Snyder has caused the NFL unmitigated embarrassment because of ongoing league-mandated investigations into sexual misconduct in the workplace and possible financial issues that violate league rules.
Fertitta would be so beloved by the team’s loyal fans, including politicians and business leaders, they’d throw him a parade down Pennsylvania Avenue and entertain him at the White House. They’d build him a new stadium anywhere he prefers and erect his statue on the National Mall. That’s how much the NFL in general, and Washington D.C. in particular, loathe Snyder and want desperately to wash their hands of him as soon as possible.
Does Fertitta have a chance? Sources with knowledge of the situation believe he does, but the competition for the Commanders is fierce. He bought the Rockets for $2.2 billion, a record for an NBA franchise at the time. His financial empire includes, among other things, hotels, casinos, restaurants, and automobile dealerships that have elevated his net worth to more than $8.1 billion, according to Forbes.
Fertitta’s primary competition appears to be a Washington D.C. partnership between billionaires Josh Harris, who owns the Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Devils, and Mitchell Rales. Magic Johnson was added to their group this week, according to media reports. Harris attempted to buy the Denver Broncos but lost out to a group led by Rob Walton, a Walmart heir who’s the wealthiest owner in the NFL.
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos also has shown interest and is worth more than anyone in the United States, but he owns the Washington Post, which has been Snyder’s nemesis through the years. Reports say Snyder doesn’t want to sell his team to Bezos.
The most recent candidate is Steve Apostolopoulos, a Canadian billionaire. Like Fertitta, he toured the team’s facility which includes the owner’s offices.
Pro Football Talk reported last week Snyder and his wife, Tanya, cleared out of the team’s facility in December. That led to reports the sale could be imminent, which doesn’t appear to be the case.
The majority owner of a new NFL franchise must have a minimum of 30% equity and can have no more than $1 billion in acquisition debt. Maybe the owners will want to get rid of Snyder so bad they’ll allow a candidate like Fertitta to drop below that 30% figure or increase the acquisition debt.
Maybe the ownership group and finance committee will change the rules for a new owner like Fertitta. The league could implement a special provision to expedite the sale to get rid of Snyder. Exceptions have been made in the past.
Imagine Fertitta in his luxurious suite at his new stadium, entertaining presidents, senators, congressmen, and foreign dignitaries. And dining on food supplied by one of his thousands of restaurants, of course. Life couldn’t get much better for Fertitta, could it? But if Fertitta is unable to buy the Commanders, he can still pursue Victor Wembanyama, the 7-2 French phenom who’ll be the first pick in the NBA draft.
Since just about everything Fertitta touches turns to gold, maybe he’ll celebrate the best of both worlds – owning the Commanders and being fortunate enough to draft Wembanyama.
(John McClain writes four columns a week for GallerySports.com. He can be heard Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday on Sports Radio 610 and Thursday on Texans Radio. He does three weekly Houtopia podcasts for 610. He also can be read three times a week on SportsRadio610.com).