ASHBURN, Va. — Three weeks after Dan Snyder and wife Tanya began exploring selling part or all of the Washington Commanders, Andrew and Laura Potts went to a home game and decided to become season-ticket holders.
They hoped a sale would be completed by the time they returned, and they got their wish last week when NFL owners unanimously approved the transfer of the team from the Snyders to a group led by Josh Harris.
The couple from Front Royal, Virginia, were in the front row at the first public practice of training camp, with the back of Andrew’s jersey bearing the words “SNYDER GONE.”
Snyder is gone, and Washington football fans are back. More than 3,000 attended Thursday, filling brand-new bleachers and standing-room space next to the field like nothing seen at this team’s camp in recent years.
“Just the excitement: Nobody’s negative anymore,” said Laura Potts, 34. “All the negativity’s gone all of a sudden. It’s really fun to see.”
The packed stands full of cheering fans were a stark contrast from a year ago, when the grounds were nearly empty and apathy at an all-time high. The Commanders were last in the NFL in attendance after ranking 31st of 32 teams in 2021.
And the fans who were there often wore the colors of the visiting team. Looking around at the crowd assembled for practice, offensive lineman Sam Cosmi envisioned a world this season where home games feel like home.
“It’s going to be nice,” Cosmi said. “I feel like this year we’re not going to be at a home game and having to go on silent count. I’m looking forward to that. I think we’ll have a packed stadium with burgundy and gold, so I’m excited about that.”
Josh Kirby, 24, of Stephens City, Virginia, was excited just to see Harris, team President Jason Wright and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin signing autographs and taking pictures with fans on their way in. Chants of “Thank you, Josh!” filled the air, and individual fans expressed their appreciation to Harris as he made his way by.
“That means a lot to me,” Kirby said. “They’re recognizing the fan base and what they mean to Washington football.”
Bringing fans back is one of the immediate priorities of the new ownership group, which features three prominent figures with Washington-area ties in Harris and limited partners Mitchell Rales and Mark Ein, along with basketball Hall of Famer Magic Johnson.
“All of us in the new ownership group are deeply committed to making this a franchise that people are proud to support and that brings people together,” Ein told The Associated Press Wednesday. “We want to deliver a world-class experience for our fans at the stadium and wherever we touch them. That’s a deep commitment we all have: making this one of the great fan experiences in all of sports.”
New ownership’s mere presence is helping. Since word emerged of Harris and Snyder reaching an agreement in principle on a $6.05 billion sale in mid-April, the team has added 4,143 season-ticket holders, according to a Commanders spokesperson.
The effort is also there. Harris’ group is looking into fixing up aging FedEx Field, and the addition of the bleachers themselves, along with food trucks, a store and more fan-friendly activities, stood out.
“Mr. Harris ain’t playing games,” 2020 Defensive Rookie of the Year and Maryland native Chase Young said. “I know [fans are] excited about new ownership, and just the stands itself made it feel more like an NFL practice, for real.”
Minutes earlier, Cosmi sounded the same tone.
“This looks put together,” he said. “It looks like a professional football team.”
A professional football team that’s now wanted by the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia after several off-field scandals derailed previous plans. Rep. James Comer, a Kentucky Republican, and Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C.’s nonvoting representative in the House, introduced a bill to Congress on Thursday that could pave the way for the Commanders to make the old RFK Stadium site their next home.
Deciding where to build will take time, and it could be 2030 until Washington — whatever the team is called at that point — starts playing in a shiny, new, state-of-the-art facility.
Until then, Andrew Potts said, “It’s refreshing” for Commanders fans not to be the butt of jokes because of Snyder or the negative news he made. The organization is hoping to take camp crowds and turn them into even bigger ones for games this fall and beyond.
“Having support from fans is a huge thing for a football team — for any football team,” Cosmi said. “When you feel like you can come out here and you know what you’re playing for and you have people to play for, that just helps a ton.”