Owning a professional sports team has become a more exclusive group, especially in the NFL.
That point is being hammered home once more during the sale of the Washington Commanders.
Three groups bid on the Commanders, who are in agreement to be sold to one led by Josh Harris for a record $6.05 billion. Separate groups led by Canadian billionaire Steve Apostolopoulos and Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta both offered at least $5.6 billion. But while others, such as American businessman Byron Allen, expressed interest early on, they lacked the capital to get involved. Amazon.com founder and executive chairman Jeff Bezos declined to submit a bid.
But it’s not just NFL teams that have shot up in value. The Lerner family purchased MLB’s Washington Nationals for $450 million in 2006; the team is now up for sale with an estimated value of $2 billion, according to Forbes. The Glazer family bought the Premier League’s Manchester United for approximately $1.4 billion in 2006; the owners are expected to more than double their investment — possibly quadruple it — if the team is sold.
The list goes on. The rising costs limit how many people can buy a pro sports team, but the desire to do so remains strong because of the increasing value. That’s why some leagues have loosened rules when it comes to owning a team. The NBA, NHL, MLB and MLS allow private equity investors to own up to 20% of a franchise.
The NFL has resisted that urge, still mandating that any group must be led by an individual who can put down 30% of the sale price, though a group can have up to 25 people.
The NFL boasts six of the top 10 most valuable pro sports franchises — and 13 of the top 20 — according to Forbes as of September; Washington ranked eighth. Manchester United ranked 19th.
Here’s a look at other pro sports teams up for sale. — Commanders reporter John Keim
Outgoing owner: Dan Snyder purchased the franchise for $800 million in 1999, topping the previous record for an NFL team by more than $250 million. Snyder eventually sold 40.5% of the team to three limited partners: Fred Smith, Bob Rothman and Dwight Schar. In March 2021, Snyder bought out the remaining shares for $900 million, giving his family complete control of the franchise. At the time, his mom Arlette, who died in July 2021, owned 6.5% while his sister, Michele, owned 12.55%. Snyder received a $450 million debt waiver to complete the purchase. Snyder’s wife, Tanya, was named a co-CEO of the franchise in June 2021 and is considered a co-owner.
Potential sale price: In August 2022, Forbes valued the Commanders at $5.6 billion. The franchise will sell for at least $6 billion considering two offers have been made for that amount.
Reason for selling: Owners Dan and Tanya Snyder have not publicly stated why they’re selling the franchise. They announced in November that they were exploring transactions — two weeks after they released a statement in which they said they’d never sell. But since the summer of 2020, Snyder has been the target of multiple investigations into Washington’s workplace culture — by the NFL as well as Congress — during his tenure as well as financial improprieties.
Possible bidders: A group led by Josh Harris, who owns the Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Devils, has an agreement in principle for $6.05 billion. Apostolopoulos has bid $6 billion, according to a source close to the negotiations. Apostolopoulos has insisted he remains alive in the process. Fertitta said on CNBC in April that he bid $5.6 billion, but wasn’t willing to go higher. Bezos was rumored to be interested, but never made an official bid.
Last NFL team sold: The Denver Broncos were sold to Walmart heir Rob Walton and his family for a record $4.65 billion in August 2022. That was the first sale since David Tepper bought the Carolina Panthers in 2018 for a then-record $2.275 billion. –Keim
Current owner: Michael Jordan bought roughly 80% of the team in 2010 and four years later increased his holding to about 90%. He paid a $275 million valuation at the initial purchase, making it a rare situation in which a team sold for less than the previous owner paid. Robert Johnson paid $300 for the then-Charlotte Bobcats in 2002.
Potential sale price: About $2.5 billion, according to ESPN’s sources. It’s on track to be a premium over projected valuations by Sportico and Forbes, which both recently pegged the team at a $1.7 billion value. In 2018, the NFL’s Carolina Panthers sold for $2.275 billion.
Reason for selling: In March 2023, Jordan announced he was in discussions to sell a controlling interest in the team. He did not give a reason. It is believed he would retain a sizable piece as part of a potential deal. Jordan was a leader on the committee that just negotiated a new collective bargaining agreement with the NBA players’ union. With the league’s upcoming media rights negotiation, it’s a sweet spot to possibly cash out at a massive profit.
Possible bidders: Jordan is negotiating with Gabe Plotkin, a hedge fund manager who bought a minority share in the team in 2020, and Richard Schnall, who currently is a minority shareholder in the Atlanta Hawks.
Last NBA team sold: Billionaire mortgage lender Mat Ishbia purchased a majority stake in the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury for $4 billion in January. –Senior NBA writer Brian Windhorst
Current owner: Eugene Melnyk bought the Ottawa Senators and their arena in August 2003 for $92 million. The franchise was facing bankruptcy at the time and its future even remaining in Ottawa was uncertain. The Senators are now part of a greater business Melnyk built in Capital Sports Management Inc., with a subsequent company under that banner — Capital Sports and Entertainment Inc. — acting as owner and operator of the team. Since Melnyk passed in 2022, his daughters Anna and Olivia have taken primary control of the franchise.
Potential sale price: The Senators were valued around $525 million by Forbes in December 2022. Ottawa’s sale price is expected to be significantly higher than that. Sportico reported in March that bids exceeding $900 million were expected while other sources believe the more realistic sale price will fall in the $800 million range.
Reason for selling: It was expected after Melnyk died that his estate would ultimately sell. Anna and Olivia are both in their early 20s and it would be an enormous ask of them to continue running the business as their father did. It’s also the perfect time for the Senators to hit the market given the new owners will have an opportunity to potentially tie in a lease on land to build a new arena. Prior to his death, Melnyk had secured preferred bidder status from Ottawa’s National Capital Commission on the government-owned LeBreton Flats, a site 10 minutes from downtown that would allow the Senators to move out of their current lodging in the Ottawa suburb of Kanata. This is key given a condition of the sale is that the franchise must remain in Ottawa for the long term.
Possible bidders: There are believed to be several seriously interested buyers. Those include Los Angeles-based producer and entrepreneur Neko Sparks, Graeme Roustan (publisher of The Hockey News and partnered with First Nations) and Michael Andlauer (billionaire businessman and minority owner of the Montreal Canadiens), among other potential candidates. The Remington Group, which partnered with actor Ryan Reynolds, was also interested but its bid did not move forward.
Last NHL team sold: Recent comparables in the NHL include the Pittsburgh Penguins being purchased by Fenway Sports Group in November 2021 for around $900 million. — Senior NHL writer Kristen Shilton
Current owner: In 2006, the Lerner family — spearheaded by the patriarch, Washington real estate magnate Ted — bought the team from Major League Baseball for $450 million. The league had taken control of the Montreal Expos and moved them to Washington after a complicated deal in which Expos owner Jeffrey Loria purchased the Florida Marlins and Marlins owner John Henry took over the Boston Red Sox. In April 2022, the Lerner family hired Allen & Co., the investment bank that often brokers franchise transactions, to explore selling the team. Ted Lerner died in February 2023, and a potential sale, according to league sources, is on hold.
Potential sale price: Ted Leonsis, the owner of the Washington Wizards, Capitals and Mystics, offered more than $2 billion for the Nationals, according to a recent Washington Post report. Forbes valued the team at $2 billion. Though the most recent MLB team sold was the New York Mets to Steve Cohen for $2.4 billion, that came in 2019, well before the sales of the Washington Commanders ($6 billion), Denver Broncos ($4.65 billion) and Phoenix Suns ($4 billion) illustrated the rising prices of sports franchises. One MLB owner expects the Nationals to sell for at least $2.5 billion — a price that would make sense with the eventual cost of two expected expansion franchises expected to be $2 billion.
Reason for selling: While the specific reason for selling is unclear — Mark Lerner, Ted’s son who took over as the day-to-day steward of the team in 2018, once said, “We will never sell the Nationals” — the long-standing dispute between the Nationals and Baltimore Orioles over local television rights remains a thorn in the team’s side. As part of the deal to bring a team back to Washington, the Nationals agreed to give their local TV rights to the Orioles, who would create the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network and pay Washington “fair-market value” annually. The Nationals sued the MASN, contending the rights fees the network offered shortchanged the team, and MLB’s revenue-sharing distribution committee ruled that Washington was owed more than $100 million in fees from 2012 to 2016. The case remains in a New York appellate court. Until the Nationals’ local TV revenue is better defined — the MASN deal is in perpetuity, and the Orioles have shown no inclination to sell the regional sports network — the fight over money complicates any potential sale.
Possible bidders: Leonsis is the favorite, even after the Nationals turned down his bid. His ideal scenario is to buy the Nationals and MASN. Multiple people beyond Leonsis have met with the Nationals, including mortgage lender Stanley Middleman and Michael Kim, the Korean private equity titan whose $7.7 billion net worth would make him the second-richest owner in MLB, behind Cohen. They would be buying a rebuilding team with scant money on the books beyond 2024. — Senior MLB insider Jeff Passan
Current owner: Suning Holdings, a holdings company based in Nanjing, China, secured a majority stake in Inter at a cost of 270 million Euros ($297 million) in 2016. Since acquiring the club, which has won 19 Italian titles and three Champions Leagues, Inter have enjoyed recent success on the field by winning the 2020-21 Serie A title and Coppa Italia in 2021-22. This season, Inter have reached the Champions League semifinal for the first since winning the competition in 2010. Inter face city rivals AC Milan in the two-legged semifinal. Suning has spent 799 million Euros on new players, making Inter the eighth-highest-spending club in Europe during its period of ownership.
Potential sale price: Interested groups have been told by Inter’s owners that the starting price for the club is 1.2 billion euros — the same figure paid by U.S. investment firm RedBird Capital Partners to buy neighbours AC Milan in June 2022. Inter share the San Siro Stadium with AC Milan, so neither team has sole revenue rights to the arena. The two teams are committed to sharing the estimated $1 billion cost of building a new stadium on the same site. Inter’s valuation will increase if they proceed to the Champions League final and will go even higher if they win the competition in Istanbul on June 10.
Reason for selling: Having encouraged Chinese companies and wealthy individuals to invest in major European clubs during the last decade, China President Xi Jinping has now abandoned the policy and many of those with stakes in football teams are retreating from the European game. The prospect of a significant profit on their initial investment is also a factor for Suning, but its outlay on transfer fees and wages has been so high that a sale in the region of 1.2 billion euros would basically see it recoup its money rather than walk away with clear profit.
Possible bidders: The Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund (PIF), which owns Premier League team Newcastle United, was reported to be in talks with Inter and Suning chairman Steven Zhang earlier this year — reports that were denied by the PIF. A number of American investment funds have also been linked, including a consortium led by New York-based Mike Forde, a former director at Chelsea. So far, none of the interested parties has come close to meeting Suning’s asking price. With a stadium to build and no guarantee of Champions League football next season, Inter’s appeal to potential buyers is limited unless they win the tournament.
Last major European club sold: Chelsea became the world’s most expensive football club in May 2021 when previous owner, Russian oil billionaire Roman Abramovich, sold the team for £2.5 billion ($3.11 billion) to U.S. group Clearlake Capital. — Senior writer Mark Ogden
Current owner: The Glazer family, also owners of NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, bought United in a leveraged buyout opposed by supporters in May 2005. By borrowing huge sums with the club as security, the Glazers plunged United into over £500 million ($620 million) of debt. Since 2005, interest payments, financing costs and dividends to the six Glazer siblings listed as directors have cost United more than £1 billion. Under the management of Sir Alex Ferguson until May 2013, United won five Premier League titles, three EFL Cups and a Champions League, reaching the final three times, from 2005 to 2013. But since Ferguson retired, United have declined, winning just four trophies in 10 years. Fans attribute the team’s slide to mismanagement by the Glazers and the financial impact of their ownership. While being owned by the Glazers has seen more than a £1 billion drained from the club’s resources, Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al Nahyan of Abu Dhabi has transformed neighbours Manchester City by investing almost £2 billion in players, coaches and key infrastructure at the club.
Potential sale price: The Glazers have instructed Raine Group, a New York bank, to handle the search for a buyer or new investment and interested parties have been told that it will cost at least £5 billion to buy the club. Based on the value of its shares on the NYSE, United’s current market value is £2.9 billion. But with the club regarded alongside Real Madrid as the biggest football team in the world, the rarity value of the team being available to buy it — it is also the best-supported and historically most successful team in the Premier League — has convinced the Glazers they can hold out for at least £5 billion. United’s status as one of the game’s super clubs will ensure a much higher sale price than Chelsea’s £2.5 billion price tag in 2021.
Reason for selling: Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad Al-Thani, the chairman of the Qatar Islamic Bank, has confirmed he wants to buy United outright, while Jim Ratcliffe, Britain’s richest man and owner of French team OGC Nice, has submitted a bid to buy the Glazers’ 69% stake in the club. Both Sheikh Jassim and Ratcliffe submitted final bids on April 28. At least four investment funds have emerged as being involved in the process, but only as potential investors to support the Glazers. Elliot Investment Management, Ares Management Corporation, Sixth Street Partners and the Carlyle Group — all U.S.-based — have lodged their interest in United. — Ogden
The Angels were very much for sale — until they very much weren’t. Arte Moreno, who has owned the Angels for two decades, announced last August that he had retained financial advisers at Galatioto Sports Partners to aid in a potential sale. Then in January, in a decision that sent shockwaves throughout the industry, he cited “unfinished business” in suddenly pulling the team off the market.
The reason, sources familiar with the process told ESPN, was surprisingly simple: Moreno, an ardent baseball fan still looking for his first championship, got cold feet as the process neared its conclusion and ultimately decided he was not ready.
Price was not considered a factor.
The Angels, sources said, had five prospective buyers who were willing to bid at least $2.5 billion, a mark that would have surpassed the current record held by the New York Mets. Sure, the Angels have made the postseason only once in the past 14 years and are promised only one more season of Shohei Ohtani, but there were several factors that made it appealing to some of the wealthiest people in the world, including: the franchise’s location in Southern California; the ballpark’s proximity to Disneyland; a strong precedent for attendance; the potential to develop the surrounding land, which can still be purchased from the City of Anaheim; the chance to strike a naming-rights deal; a lack of debt; and a favorable media rights contract, though that aspect suddenly feels more tenuous.
The five finalists were informed about three weeks before their bids were due that the team was no longer for sale, leaving a lot of people unhappy and raising widespread concerns about the Angels’ long-term future. Moreno is 76 years old, and the potential to pass the franchise down to this family wasn’t previously seen as an option. If he returns to market with the team, people familiar with the process expect potential suitors to be extremely hesitant to go all-in again. The sudden change of heart — after navigating through all the intricate formalities of a team in the process of being sold — could impact the final price. — Staff writer Alden Gonzalez
Any other rumored sales on the horizon?
After the death of Seattle Seahawks and Portland Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen in 2018, his sister, Jody Allen, inherited control of the NFL and NBA teams. In 2022, she stated that the teams would eventually be up for sale, but “estates of this size and complexity can take 10 to 20 years to wind down. There is no pre-ordained timeline by which the teams must be sold.”