Apr 12, 2022 - Sports

Commanders may have broken financial laws, House panel says

Helmets for the Washington Commanders

Helmets for the Washington Commanders. Photo: Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

The Washington Commanders may have purposefully withheld ticket revenue that’s meant to be shared with the rest of the league, while failing to refund up to $5 million in security deposits to fans, the House Oversight Committee wrote in a letter to the Federal Trade Commission Tuesday.

Why it matters: If found true, this could be the tipping point that ultimately leads to owner Dan Snyder’s ouster — something his numerous detractors have wanted for years.

"We are writing to share evidence of concerning business practices by the Washington Commanders uncovered during the Committee’s ongoing investigation into workplace misconduct at the team. Evidence obtained by the Committee, including emails, documents, and statements from former employees, indicate senior executives and the team’s owner, Daniel Snyder, may have engaged in a troubling, long-running, and potentially unlawful pattern of financial conduct that victimized thousands of team fans and the National Football League (NFL)."
— Members of the House Oversight Committee in a letter to the FTC

How it works: NFL teams must give 40% of their net home ticket sales to the league, which it then distributes to the other 31 teams.

  • Yes, but: Jason Friedman, the Commanders' former VP of sales and customer service, testified the team had "two sets of books," one which was given to the NFL that "underreported certain ticket revenue," and another which had accurate revenues, per the letter.

The letter also claims the Commanders retained nearly $5 million in security deposits for up to 2,000 customers since 2016.

  • The Commanders since 1997 have required fans to enter into multi-year leases for certain premium seats, for which they had to pay a "one-time refundable security deposit of 25% of the price of the seats for one year," according to the letter. The deposits were mandated to be returned within 30 days.
  • Snyder purchased the team in 1999, and executives thereafter directed employees to "establish roadblocks" to prevent customers from getting their deposits back.

Front Office Sports previously reported on the Commanders' practices.

Context: The House Oversight Committee last year began investigating the Commanders after 650,000 emails — some of which were racist and misogynistic — were reviewed as part of a separate probe into sexual harassment claims by former employees.

  • The Commanders, who are audited annually like all NFL teams, have denied the allegations.

A Washington Commanders spokesperson told Axios the team "categorically denies any suggestion of financial impropriety of any kind at any time."

  • "We adhere to strict internal processes that are consistent with industry and accounting standards, are audited annually by a globally respected independent auditing firm, and are also subject to regular audits by the NFL. We continue to cooperate fully with the Committee’s work.”

The big picture: There’s no shortage of scandals surrounding the Commanders and Snyder, who was fined $10 million by the NFL last year for fostering a hostile workplace environment. But because this one would impact 31 other owners’ wallets, it could be the nail in his proverbial coffin.

What they're saying: "While the focus of our investigation remains the Commanders’ toxic work environment, I hope the FTC will review this troubling financial conduct and determine whether further action is necessary," said Oversight Chair Carolyn Maloney in a press release out Tuesday.

Editor's note: This post was updated with comment from a Commanders spokesperson.

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