EAGAN, Minn. — Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay, a member of the NFL’s finance committee, called it a goal for the Washington Commanders‘ sale to be completed by the start of the regular season.
Irsay said Monday that the transaction is complicated and needs more work before the committee recommends the other owners vote for approval.
“We’re hopeful that we can get it done,” Irsay said at the spring owners meetings. “But … it’s going to take probably several more weeks of discussions before we see if we can reach the goal line there. We’re hopeful; we want to keep working in that direction.”
He later said, “That would be great to have a new ownership group in before the season opens.”
Commanders co-owners Dan and Tanya Snyder reached an agreement with a group led by Josh Harris on May 12 for $6.05 billion, a record sale price for a pro sports franchise. League sources have told ESPN they had concerns with the amount of debt involved.
“There are certain criteria that has to be met,” Irsay said. “That’s just the way it is. It’s not there yet. It doesn’t mean it can’t get there. It’s complicated.”
Irsay said the NFL, the Snyders and the Harris group are motivated to complete the deal.
“You hope that carries the day,” Irsay said. “Everyone knew the rules upfront, what the league rules are. Everyone is trying eagerly with the same amount of effort. The Harris group knows we have to stay within the guidelines.”
According to NFL rules, the primary buyer must put down 30 percent of the sale cost and carry no more than $1 billion in debt. A source with the Harris group said the NFL has not expressed concerns over its bid to them and pointed out the net worth of the group is approximately $100 billion.
However, another key factor is the number of limited partners in the group. There are at least 12, all of whom must be vetted — both financially and for background checks.
“It just takes time,” Irsay said. “It’s a little more complex than a simpler deal.”
Irsay said they wouldn’t change the rules to accommodate new bidders as the price of franchises increase. The Panthers were sold in 2018 for $2.275 billion; the Broncos, the next team to be sold, went for $4.65 billion in August.
“We’ve thought long and hard about where the rules are at this point,” Irsay said. “They’re there for a reason. Like the (Denver) sale we’re looking for the same sort of cooperation.”
Multiple sources have pointed out, as a reminder, how long it took for Denver’s sale to go through last year. Rob Walton entered into an agreement to buy the Broncos on June 7; the finance committee didn’t recommend approval until July 27 and the other owners didn’t vote until Aug. 9.
Walton purchased the team along with his daughter and son-in-law. Their group only had three limited partners: Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton, Starbucks board chair Mellody Hobson and former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
It’s possible, Irsay said, that NFL commissioner calls for a special session after July 4th to vote on the Commanders’ sale.
“Let’s put the dot over the I and put the cross over the T and make sure we get that done right,” Irsay said. “They’re very enthusiastic about becoming owners. They’re really fired up to have a chance to take over the team before the season starts.”
Because of the rising franchise cost, Irsay said they’ll discuss potential policy changes to allow institutional capital as primary buyers. For now, the NFL does not allow that to be the case.
“It’s a changing world and a changing league,” Irsay said. “In the future, that’s something we can continue to look at. We haven’t gone there yet. You don’t [want] faceless limited partners, but at the same time there are pros and cons to it so we’ll continue to evaluate it in the next several years.”
The Snyder were not present at the owners meetings; Dan Snyder hasn’t attended a league meeting since 2019.