Bezos’s NFL Dreams and S.B.F.’s First Campaign

Jeff Bezos
Jeff Bezos is widely considered a leading candidate to purchase a stake in the NFL’s Washington Commanders. Photo: Cooper Neill/Getty Images
Theodore Schleifer
December 27, 2022

Now that the tech titans have fallen short in their attempts to buy the NBA’s Phoenix Suns—which included an unexpected bid from an associate of Peter Thiel—the sports franchise hunt turns to Washington. That’s where Jeff Bezos, working with Jay-Z, is widely considered a leading candidate to purchase a stake in the NFL’s Washington Commanders from Dan Snyder. The first round of bids were due December 23rd, the night before Christmas Eve, and at least some came in well north of $7 billion.

Snyder—who bought the team formerly known as The Redskins for a then-astronomical $750 million in 1999—has long been one of the most reviled owners in sports. But he decided to explore a sale as the franchise has become mired in investigations, including from Congress, over its alleged toxic culture. Snyder hasn’t said publicly whether he would sell just a part of the team, his entire ownership stake, or nothing at all. But if this does turn into a bidding war, Bezos—the world’s second-richest person—would clearly have a tremendous advantage. And you’d imagine that Snyder and his army of beancounters at Bank of America would be hard pressed to turn down a full-team sale if the bids really are north of $7 billion, which would shatter records for the biggest sports franchise deal ever.

Bezos never really made sense to me as a potential Suns owner, as I wrote at the time. But the Commanders? Bezos spends much of his time these days in Washington, given his ownership of the Post and his $23 million party house in Kalorama. Unlike the NBA, Bezos also seems to genuinely like football—he’s frequently seen alongside his girlfriend, Lauren Sanchez, in box seats during Amazon’s Thursday night broadcasts just before her ex-husband, Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez, does the post-game show. I imagine some other NFL owners would have questions about potential conflicts of interest—Bezos is, after all, still Amazon’s executive chairman and its largest shareholder, and it’s not inconceivable that the interests of the league’s broadcasting deals might conflict with the interest of an individual league owner. But that can probably be worked out to everyone’s satisfaction, especially if that $7 billion-plus number (or, 28 Washington Posts) is real. 

Regardless, Bezos all but confirmed his interest with a wink during a rare interview given to CNN last month. “I’ve heard that buzz,” he said when asked about his interest in the team. “I grew up in Houston, Texas, and I played football growing up as a kid… and it is my favorite sport… so we’ll just have to wait and see.”

S.B.F.’s Mega-Donor Origin Story

As federal prosecutors continue to scrutinize Sam Bankman-Fried and Alameda Research’s history of political contributions, which may be part of an alleged straw-donor scheme, it’s worth rewinding the tape to the very first big political bet ever placed by S.B.F. and Alameda. It’s a story that speaks to Bankman-Fried’s early philanthropic and political ambitions, and one that I didn’t know about until very recently. I wonder how many insiders, let alone federal regulators, know about it either. 

Back in December 2019, when S.B.F. had not yet graced even a single magazine cover, Alameda put $50,000 into a local political committee called Seattle for a Healthy Planet, only four days after it was launched. The next month, Alameda put $265,000 more behind the group, a staggering amount considering that Alameda was still in its infancy. The committee was guided by two people who would end up being key S.B.F. political advisers in the coming years—Michael Sadowsky and Dave Huynh. This was around the time that Sadowsky was beginning, in his personal capacity, to run several effective altruist ballot measures and lobbying efforts around the country.

Seattle for a Healthy Planet was fairly mysterious to local onlookers—was it some clean energy play? A lab-grown meat agenda? And more importantly, why was this unheard-of crypto entrepreneur from Hong Kong spending $300,000-plus in a local election? It’s unknown what specific E.A. goal the group had in mind, but F.Y.I. to creditors, it still has $330,000 in its bank account as of its last filing.

In the end, the political committee never even launched an actual ballot measure, so it didn’t end up having a material impact. But the $315,000 spent in Seattle was Bankman-Fried’s first major political check, and the opening stanza in his increasing involvement in effective altruist political campaigns across the country. To bring things full circle, a few years later, S.B.F. would return to Seattle to pump $135,000 into an effort this cycle to stand up approval-voting in local elections—and it ended up failing, too.