You may already know that Dan Snyder has been the Redskins owner for the past two decades, but many may not know how he earned that privilege or what happened before he spent roughly $800,000 million to edge out offers that included a $720 million bid by heir-apparent John Kent Cooke, the son of the Redskins’ previous owner, Jack Kent Cooke who died in 1997.
Daniel Snyder grew up in a Bethesda, Maryland neighborhood. He was passionate about the Redskins franchise from a young age, and spent many Sundays seated beside his father in the familiar stadium watching his beloved team. He got his first job at the tender age of 14. Snyder reportedly earned a million dollars with a couple of telephones, some willing friends and the use of his parents’ bedroom, arranging jet transportation for college students’ use during spring break. He has continued to shape the world around him through his work ethic and personal drive.
Although he dropped out of college, Snyder made his way into the business world, propelled by sheer will and passion. A few years after ending his college career, he and his sister founded a marketing company called Snyder Communications that eventually sold to a French firm for an all stock transaction valued in excess of $2 billion US dollars. Snyder’s personal gain was more than $300 million, an astronomical return on investment, seeing a growth rate of 674.42% from 1995 to 1997.
When Jack Kent Cooke died, Dan Snyder began making plans to bid on ownership privileges of the Redskins team and their stadium. From the first jump there were huge hurdles to overcome. For one thing, at least 10 big league players from the sports world tossed their hats in the ring early. This group included the likes of Arizona hotelier Sam Grossman and former Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs who offered the high bid of $600 million in 1998. Other potential owners included Forth Worth investor David Bonderman and partner Ted Lerner, the future owner of the Nationals, and the New Jersey Devils owner, John J. McMullen.
Experts in NFL franchise ownership transactions were estimating the winning bid would be between $450 and $500 million. Cooke was saying he planned to pay “whatever it took” to keep the franchise under the family management umbrella. It was a known secret that the league offer to waive certain conditions for Cooke that they were not willing to offer to other bidders, creating and air of tension and additional pressure among competitors and the trustees.
On top of the financial challenges, the NFL owners’ group was an exclusive club. Entrance into the club required convincing 30 gatekeepers that he would not embarrass the league or publicly challenge the norms as a lone voice. And, Daniel Snyder had a reputation for carving out his own path, under his terms, driven by personal passion and vision.
Forming a partnership with Howard Milstein, a New York real estate investor and minority owner of the NHL’s Islanders, Dan, made a team bid of $800 million a few days before initial bids were due. Milstein eventually withdrew his bid due to concerns about his heavy debt supporting the bid and his tendency to be “too litigious” for the trustees liking.
Although Milstein and Snyder remained friends, Dan had to convince other investors to join his group to restructure a purchase package that equaled the original Milstein/Snyder offer of $800 million. To accomplish this, he leveraged family relationships and hit up original investors in Snyder Communications to secure a funding deal that included $350 million in equity. John Kent Cooke made one last offer of $720 million, but withdrew it when it looked like the league and trustees were using him to drive the final bid higher and higher. Cooke complained that he was treated poorly, used, in essence, and considered the loss a personal tragedy that resulted in the family legacy going to another owner with a different vision. To be sure, Daniel Snyder did have a different vision. While many bidders were focused on the benefits of owning a cash-making machine of a stadium, passion for the team and the sport were driving Snyder’s persistence and perseverance.
After almost a year of bidding, negotiating, and restructuring financial packages, a unanimous NFL owners’ group voted to approve the transaction for Snyder’s group with an offer of $800 million. The deal set a new record for any NFL franchise ownership deal in the league’s history.
It would seem that the owners made good decisions in the end. Milstein showed his litigious colors, when he filed a lawsuit against Redskins GM Charley Casserly and John Kent Cooke, alleging they conspired with NFL officials to negate his bid. The suit was dismissed without merit. Daniel Snyder has proven to be an resilient owner, increasing revenues and driving team spirit during his tenure as owner. And, although John Kent Cooke was disappointed and heartbroken at the thought of the family losing control of the Redskins franchise, he has fulfilled his father’s dream of providing scholarships for deserving students. At last report, Cooke had funded approximately $190 million dollars worth of scholarships.