How Daniel Snyder Closed the Most Dramatic Deal Ever

If you’ve ever wondered how Daniel Snyder became the owner of the Washington Football Team, the story is an interesting one. It was in 1999 that the previous owner, Jack Kent Cole, passed away. His will was somewhat unusual in that most of his estate was to be put toward his own college foundation. The Washington Football Team along with the Jack Kent Cooke Stadium sold at auction some months later—and Dan Snyder bought the team and stadium on May 25, 1999.

The sale was a lot more complicated than that, however. Mr. Cooke passed away in April of 1997, but it wasn’t until August of 1998 that the first potential buyer put a bid on the team and the stadium. It was Andrew Penson, a well-known financier, who made that offer using backing from the Lehman brothers. His bid was for $450 million—at the time, a record setting amount that was higher than any sum ever paid for an NFL franchise before.

Daniel Snyder came onto the bidding scene on November 7, 1998 when a Washington Post headline announced his interest in the team. It was something of a childhood dream for Snyder, who had grown up watching the Washington Football Team play.

A bidding war began when John Kent Cooke, Jack Cooke’s son, announced that he would do whatever it took for the Washington Football Team to remain in the family. By the November 23, 1998 bid deadline, at least 10 bids had been made, all of them coming from well-known investors, some of whom owned stakes in other sports franchises.

If $450 million was an impressive sum, the bids would go much, much higher yet for the iconic football team. Not long before the first bidding deadline, Daniel Snyder got involved with another of the bidders, the Millstein brothers. This duo owned a 45% share of the NHL Islanders. Together, they waited for the bid deadline to pass—and then before the December 22 second round bidding began, they went to the team’s trustees and offered $700 million in cash.

This bid would eventually be declined—but Dan Snyder wasn’t out of the game yet. By January 10, 1999, he and the Millstein brothers bought the team for $800 million.

John Cooke was disappointed, of course. In a statement, he said, “I had the desire and the will—even the ingenuity—but not enough money to keep the Washington Football Team in my family.”

Just because Daniel Snyder and the Millstein brothers had won the final bid, that didn’t mean the war was over. One of the interesting facets of this sale was that eventually, the NFL itself stepped in. The league preferred that the Redskins stay with the Cooke family because in 25 years of stewardship as majority owners, the Cookes had seen three Super Bowl victories. Thus, the NFL ended up waiving various purchase requirements in order to help John Cooke make the purchase. None of the other bidders would receive any such leniency.

With this came an investigation of Snyder and the Milstein brothers, with the league scrutinizing the purchasing team’s financials and ordering a private investigator to do background checks on those involved.

By March, Daniel Snyder and the Milsteins requested a delay on the purchase vote, which the NFL Commissioner at the time, Paul Tagliabue, granted.

The next bid vote was coming up on April 7, and many worried about the real estate-backed financing that the Milsteins were using for this purchase. As the deadline drew near, Snyder started work on matching the $800 million he’d put together with the Milsteins—only, without the Milsteins’ help.

The bidding war stretched on, and finally, on May 25, 1999, Snyder won the sale. The NFL owners had a unanimous vote in his favor. Snyder and the Milsteins remained friends after the sale, and Snyder himself released statements in praise of the Cookes, who for so long had managed the Washington Football Team beautifully.

That was 20 years ago, and to this day, Dan Snyder still takes pride in the Washington Football Team empire that he oversees.

About Daniel Snyder

Snyder has a long history in business that predates his ownership of the Washington Football Team. In fact, at age 17, as an enterprising youth, he made his first foray into the business world by partnering with his father, who sold bus trips to Washington hockey fans. This initial venture wasn’t a success—bad weather and the Washington Capitals, their team, lost the game.

But Snyder kept it up through the years. As a 20-year-old, he was running his own business, which involved jet leases for college students who wanted to fly out to the Caribbean and Fort Lauderdale for spring break. It’s said that this small startup venture, which he ran from a bedroom in his parents’ home, netted him $1 million.

Later, he formed a relationship with Mortimer Zuckerman, who financed a magazine that Snyder had developed, CampusUSA. Zuckerman ran U.S. News & World Report, and in partnership with Fred Drasner, publisher of New York Daily News, they invested almost $3 million in Snyder’s CampusUSA. Paid advertising proved a challenge, however, and the magazine closed after just a few years.

Still, Snyder maintained a good relationship with Drasner and Zuckerman both, so at age 25, he launched another idea, which was Wallboards. This drew Snyder into the advertising world, where, in 1988, he and his sister formed Snyder Communications, which is a marketing company that focuses on things like proprietary product sampling, direct marketing, database marketing, field sales and call centers.

From there, business took off. Snyder Communications performed well, and in April of the year 2000, the company was sold to a French marketing group. Since then, Daniel Snyder has been involved in other ventures—but he’s best known as the owner of the legendary Washington Football Team.

Learn more about Daniel Snyder: https://www.forbes.com/profile/dan-snyder/

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