The radio host and TV reporter talks Snyder, Josh Harris, and a new era for DC football fans.
Written by Luke Mullins | Published on
After more than two decades of misery, Washington-area football fans are finally getting some good news. Last week, the Commanders’ longtime and extraordinarily unpopular owner, Dan Snyder, reached an agreement in principle to sell the franchise to a group of investors led by Josh Harris, an area native and private equity billionaire who also owns the National Basketball Association’s Philadelphia 76ers and National Hockey League’s New Jersey Devils. Other members of the Harris group include local billionaire Mitchell Rales and basketball legend Magic Johnson.
To better understand what the reported $6 billion deal might mean for the franchise and the region, we talked to JP Finlay, the Commanders beat reporter for NBC Sports Washington and the host of BMitch & Finlay on 106.7 The Fan. (The following interview has been edited for space and clarity).
So what’s the latest with the deal to sell the Commanders? Is it going to happen?
I think it’s in the finishing stages. I think you’re at lawyers going through documents and making sure everything’s agreed upon. I’ve had sources tell me, a lot of people have, that there’s an agreement in principle and it’s nonexclusive. I understand that some fans are reluctant to really believe that anything with Dan [Snyder] is ever going to finally happen. But I believe this thing is at or very close to the finish line and will get finalized. I think it’s gonna be the Harris group. I think things on this level are highly orchestrated. And you know, I don’t think Magic Johnson going on the Today Show was an accident. I don’t think Mitchell Rales sitting next to Josh Harris at courtside at the [Philadelphia 76ers] game was an accident. I think this thing is happening.
What was it that finally forced Dan Snyder to decide to sell?
There’s a lot of theories, and I don’t have the answer. But ultimately, for me, I think this is all about money. Some people will say that when Tanya Snyder got booed at a breast cancer event, that was kind of the last straw for her. And because she had become the public face of ownership, that was it. But to me, the Commanders’ revenues are far below what an NFL team of their market size should be. And really, the only path to greater revenues at this point is a new stadium, at least from what ownership can control. And I just think getting a new stadium for Dan Snyder became unattainable. And I think [Snyder] recognized it. To me, politicians can look past almost anything if it helps their cause, and when politicians in all three jurisdictions—Maryland, DC, and Virginia—didn’t want anything to do with them, I think [Snyder] realized it was just about checkmate.
How has Josh Harris been viewed as an owner?
Well, so as somebody that doesn’t cover the Devils or the Sixers, just as somebody who works as a pro sports reporter, I view him pretty favorably because he’s built two playoff-caliber contending teams. The Sixers are in the playoffs, Devils are in the playoffs. And he’s built them kind of the right way through draft and development, and he doesn’t seem to be a hands-on owner at all in the type of mold we’ve seen Snyder be. He seems to let the sports people do the sports work. He runs a professional operation, he runs two of them. The Commanders just aren’t [professional]. So to me, that’s the most appealing thing. There are people in Philadelphia that will tell you he’s not passionate about the team, that is a money-making vehicle for him. And I get it. I mean, it’s a business.
How do you think the sale is going to impact the team itself?
I think [the impact is] more to fans in the immediate moment than to players. You know, Josh Harris isn’t gonna throw a touchdown or tackle anybody. But I do think this thing really started to hang over players, but more so the coaches and the front office. I mean, you had [head coach] Ron Rivera and [team president] Jason Wright admitting that this is a cloud hanging over them and that they can’t wait for it to be over. That’s pretty rare. I mean, and Ron, throughout the season said, ‘No, that’s not the case.’ But he’s admitting it now, which I find pretty telling.
How do you think the sale would impact a potential stadium deal?
You had a whole bunch of politicians that didn’t want to be seen on stage with Dan Snyder. Now you’re gonna have a whole bunch of politicians that get to be seen on stage with Magic Johnson. They’re gonna line up. They’re gonna take a number for that. People didn’t want to give Dan [Snyder] a dollar. I think that changes. I think it reopens stadium discussions in all three jurisdictions. Specifically for the city, I think there’s this operating assumption that they gotta get back to RFK. And I think that would be ideal. But I wouldn’t rule out kind of developing east of the river, maybe. You know, that’s an area that’s been underserved. And that’s an area that’s long been talked about needing a massive development project. And if you put an NFL stadium over there, I think it’s easy to get public support behind that because it’ll bring with it jobs and restaurants and money and opportunity. Look at what Nats Park did for the city. Look at what Capital One Arena did for the city. So I think it’s a huge opportunity.
What do you think the sale of Commanders would mean for the region?
I think it’s gonna be one of the best sports moments in this city in the last 30 years. And I know that sounds ridiculous, but I’m telling the truth, man. Obviously, the Nats won the World Series, the Caps won the [Stanley] Cup. This is right there. It sounds silly maybe to people that are from here, but it’s real.
Luke Mullins is a senior writer at Washingtonian magazine focusing on the people and institutions that control the city’s levers of power. He has written about the Koch Brothers’ attempt to take over The Cato Institute, David Gregory’s ouster as moderator of NBC’s Meet the Press, the collapse of Washington’s Metro system, and the conflict that split apart the founders of Politico.