ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – The Denver Broncos have entered a sale agreement with the Walton-Penner family ownership group, the sides announced Tuesday night.
The agreement is for $ 4.65 billion, sources told ESPN, confirming multiple reports. That would be a record price paid for a North American sports franchise.
The Walton-Penner group – headed by Walmart heir Rob Walton; his daughter, Carrie Walton Penner; and her husband, Greg Penner – will also include Mellody Hobson, co-CEO of Ariel Investments as well as chair of the board of the Starbucks Corporation and a director at JP Morgan Chase.
“While this purchase and sale agreement is pending approval from the NFL’s finance committee and league ownership, [Tuesday] marks a significant step on the path to an exciting new chapter in Broncos history, “Broncos CEO Joe Ellis said in a statement.
Walton said: “We are thrilled to be selected to move forward with the purchase of the Denver Broncos! Carrie, Greg and I are inspired by the opportunity to steward this great organization in a vibrant community full of opportunity and passionate fans. Having lived and worked in Colorado, we’ve always admired the Broncos. Our enthusiasm has only grown as we’ve learned more about the team, staff and Broncos Country over the last few months. “
The Walton-Penner group was, according to multiple sources, one of four groups that had advanced to the second round of bidding this week. Those bids had been due to the trustees of the Pat Bowlen Trust by 5 pm ET Monday. Forbes has estimated Walton’s net worth at $ 59 billion.
The Broncos have been one of the NFL’s most successful franchises in the Super Bowl era, with three Super Bowl wins in Pat Bowlen’s ownership tenure, and now have an ownership group with some of the deepest pockets.
The Carolina Panthers had held the record for most paid for an NFL franchise when David Tepper purchased the team in 2018 for $ 2.3 billion. The most paid previously for a North American sports franchise was $ 2,475 billion in 2020 by Steven Cohen to purchase the New York Mets.
A group led by Todd Boehly, who has interests in the Los Angeles Dodgers and Los Angeles Lakers among his vast portfolio, recently purchased Chelsea in the English Premier League for more than $ 5 billion.
Bowlen and his siblings originally paid $ 78 million in 1984 for controlling interest in the Broncos. Bowlen later also purchased the shares held by his sister and two brothers. The team had more Super Bowl appearances (seven) than losing seasons in his tenure.
It is expected Penner will have a prominent role in the day-to-day operations of the team, and Ellis had expressed the importance, since the team was formally put up for sale on Feb. 1, that the new owner be “visible” in the community and understand the Broncos’ place in Denver, the state of Colorado and the region.
The agreement ends an eight-year odyssey since Bowlen stepped away from the day-to-day operations of the team he had owned for 30 years in July of 2014 due to the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Bowlen died in 2019.
Bowlen never formally declared a successor among his children, and when he stepped away from the team’s day-to-day operations, he had his interest in the team (estimated to be about 78 percent at the time) placed in a trust overseen by Ellis , Broncos counsel Rich Slivka and Denver attorney Mary Kelly.
What followed included a lawsuit between family members, harsh words and court dates that coincided with a current six-year streak of playoff misses on the field. The team’s Super Bowl 50 win to close out the 2015 season was the last postseason game the Broncos played in.
The trustees and team officials had met with all of the prospective bidders, who toured the team’s facilities as well as its home stadium in recent weeks.
Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett said Monday he had met “a solid amount ” of the potential bidders and added:” After talking to everybody, I think they all have an amazing passion and want to be a part of this league and they want to be a part of a team. I think that’s something that’s really beautiful. They want to come to win, and they want to do something great here. Whoever it is, I think we’re going to be very grateful. ”
The sale agreement is now subject to review by the NFL’s finance committee and must then be approved by a full vote of NFL owners. Twenty-four yes votes would be needed for the sale to be approved.
A special meeting could be called for the vote by the owners in July or August or the vote could come at a previously scheduled owners meeting after the start of the NFL’s regular season.
Ellis had consistently said he believes a new owner would be in place by the time the Broncos face the Seattle Seahawks Sept. 12 in the opener, but has also added “don’t hold me to that. ”
The sale agreement with the Walton-Penner group also means Walton and Stan Kroenke, Walton’s cousin by marriage, will own five of the six major professional sports franchises in Colorado. Kroenke owns the Denver Nuggets, Colorado Avalanche, Colorado Rapids and Colorado Mammoth lacrosse team as well as a regional media company in the state.