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Josh Harris focused on revived fan experience, team culture in early days as Commanders owner

A new era kicked off Friday in Washington, D.C. with the introduction of the team's new ownership group.

Judging by the fan turnout and the message from Josh Harris and NBA legend Magic Johnson, who is part of the new ownership group, both groups can't wait to get started.

"Washington fans are passionate. I knew that because I grew up here. The reaction has been overwhelming," Harris said during his introductory press conference following the NFL's approval of the Washington sale on Thursday from former owner Dan Snyder to the Harris group.

"We're so appreciative of how welcomed we are. We also know -- cause we've done this before in Philly -- that we've got to deliver. The fans should be aware, and you should be aware there's a lot of sleepless nights.

"This has been an amazing day for me, but I'm stressed. Training camp is next week and the first game is six weeks away. We've got a lot to do; we've got to get the team ready to win football games, we've got to get out in the community and start to pay it forward, as Magic (Johnson) said; we've got to change the stadium, right... I'm sorry -- the fan experience -- we've got to change the fan experience. ... Our three priorities are those, and that's what we're focused on right now."

The three-pronged approach won't be accomplished overnight. Potentially building a stadium is no small task, and even as legislators explore proposals that might make construction of a new facility -- perhaps on the federal land currently occupied by the dilapidated RFK Stadium -- more viable for the Commanders in the future, they aren't playing anywhere but FedExField right now.

The compromise, then, is to improve fan experience, which can be done with smaller changes within the game-day environment at FedExField, and can instantly jump in quality if Washington wins. The Commanders are equipped with a roster that won eight games a year ago, could be turned into a winner and has some reason to be excited -- especially if second-year quarterback Sam Howell can seize his upcoming opportunity.

"We're focused on creating great experiences for our fans and making them feel, as I've said, when you have guests in your house -- we're going to throw a party every other Sunday -- and when you have guests in your house, you treat them well," Harris said. "You don't have couches that are broken, you don't have TVs that aren't working, so we have to get after all that and that's what we're focused on right now.

"As far as the stadium experience long run, we would love to have a stadium where the opposing players fear to come and our fans love to come and our players love to come and feel welcome. That's what I experienced at RFK, and whatever happens with the stadium, that's the kind of stadium experience I want to create."

Perhaps most surprising of all was a lack of commitment to the team's current "Commanders" branding, which still has a new-car smell to it.

Johnson told NBC's Today show on Friday morning that everything was on the table in terms of change.

"We'll see where we are with the name," Johnson said. " … We're going to spend this year understanding what we have in place. … The name of the team will come up eventually."

The first question Harris fielded in part was about a potential name change, but the new owner declined to specially address the name's future.

"It's not about how I feel, it's about how the city feels about all this stuff," Harris said on Friday when he was asked a second time about the team's name and the removal of the old moniker in 2020. "Like I said, our priorities are getting ready for a football stadium, we got to improve the existing fan experience, then we got to get at the community and get out there. We're going to look at everything and see where we are, but those are our three priorities right now."

Regardless, Harris said there is "unbelievable" opportunity within the Washington market for the Commanders to regain their prominence.

All options are available for the new ownership group, which arrived to a hero's welcome Friday in a scene filled with positivity that local reporters described as one of the most euphoric scenes at FedExField since the days of Robert Griffin III.

For those counting at home, Griffin last led Washington to success in 2012. It's been a long decade.

In a statement released Friday, Dan and Tanya Snyder congratulated Harris and his ownership group on the purchase of the Commanders.

"We are immensely grateful to the best fans in football, the Commanders' faithful, for the passion and unwavering support they have shown for this team and those who represented it on and off the field," the statement read. "From the players who battled every week for that extra inch, to those who worked behind the scenes to enhance every facet of the organization, we thank you for your hard work, dedication and commitment to our team, fans, pursuit of excellence and most importantly, to each other."

The struggles on the field and the scandals committed off it made for a discouraging environment in Washington. Snyder's departure and Harris' arrival represents an opportunity for a franchise rebirth and is certainly expected to prioritize a positive culture within the organization.

"A lot of stuff happened that was unfortunate. We're focused on changing the culture," Harris said. "I think a lot of that has hopefully been done, that's what we think but we got to get in there. Obviously, it's about creating a management team where everyone doesn't look the same. ...

"When you own a sports team in a city, everyone looks at what you do. It's the old adage that my mom and dad used to say, which is like, 'Behave as if whatever you do is going to be written about on the front page of the Washington Post' -- and here I am! When you own a team, everyone who works at the team, all of my partners, and everyone who's creating and involved with the team, they're a reflection on you. And so, ultimately, it's on us. The reason some of this stuff takes a long time is it's one person at a time and it's all about culture. We're going to be very intentional about culture and it's what we've done in the past."

If all of these lofty ambitions become reality, winning should follow. As Harris stressed Friday, patience will be necessary.

After two decades that tried their patience, Washington fans should be willing to give a little more. The payoff could finally be worth it.

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