March 28, 2023
After being floated in the rumor mill as a lead contender to buy the Washington Commanders, it appears Sixers owner Joshua Harris is moving closer to that reality. On Monday afternoon, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that Harris has partnered up with a group that includes Lakers legend Magic Johnson to table a $6 billion bid for the D.C.-based team.
This is the most serious step Harris has taken yet to bust into the NFL ownership fraternity. Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment have been investigating the opportunity to get into pro football for some time, most notably when they were involved in the sales process of the Denver Broncos. During that process, sources told PhillyVoice in January, representatives for HBSE toured Broncos facilities and met with then members of the football operations staff prior to the Walton-Penner group ultimately coming in with a $4.65 billion bid for the Broncos.
(HBSE has also explored opportunities to invest in European soccer, making the shortlist of bidders for English Premier League club Chelsea before they were eventually purchased by American businessman Todd Boehly.)
Regarding the optics, a potential purchase of the Commanders is a tougher sell to the Philadelphia area, thanks to the divisional rivalry/ties between the Eagles and Commanders. It does differ from HBSE's ownership of the New Jersey Devils in a notable way, as Harris grew up in Maryland and rooted for the Commanders franchise as his hometown team dating back to his childhood. If this purchase goes through, that will likely be the message from Harris' camp, pointing out that Harris went to school in Philadelphia during Julius Erving's peak and took to the Sixers in a similar fashion.
On the subject of Harris' commitment to the Sixers, a source familiar with the situation who spoke to PhillyVoice said that a successful bid would have no negative impact on the operations of any other team in Harris' portfolio, and that Harris remained committed to delivering a championship to Philadelphia. Taking ownership of the Commanders is viewed as an additive move.
With Schefter reporting that this bid meets the ask Daniel Snyder has been looking for, the big looming question is whether someone else is able/willing to come in and trump the offer. After going through the process with the Broncos' sale only for the Walton-Penner bid to come in at the last minute, there was some early trepidation about getting too deep in the weeds with the Commanders, the expectation being that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos would come in with the highest bid at some point.
Bezos remains on the horizon as a potential boogieman, though reporting on the subject has suggested that personal animosity between Bezos and current Commanders owner Daniel Snyder threatened to box Bezos out of the bidding process. Commanders insiders have refuted those claims, and it remains to be seen if Harris' group will emerge with the top bid. Shortly before this story was published, Schefter added an additional report on the sales process, relaying that a Canadian billionaire put up a bid matching Harris':
Canadian billionaire Steve Apostolopoulos also has submitted a fully-funded $6 billon offer for the Commanders, sources tell me and @WindhorstESPN.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 28, 2023
With two groups known to have submitted bids, there is a growing belief the Commanders could be sold before the NFL Draft.
Should his group win out, Harris owning a divisional rival isn't likely to sit well with a territorial Philadelphia fanbase that prioritizes the Eagles over all else, but being a well-liked owner is pretty tough to pull off anyway. This represents something of a perfect storm for Harris if they're able to emerge victorious, giving him control of a childhood favorite and a seat at the table of America's No. 1 sport and sports league. As for what it means over the big picture, only time and patience can tell us that.
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