Attention Walmart Shoppers, the Denver Broncos have a new owner! Well, new ownership group to be exact. Tuesday night the team announced a purchase-sale agreement for Samuel Robson "Rob" Walton and his daughter, Carrie Walton Penner, her husband Greg, and minority owner Mellody Hobson to buy the team from the Bowlen Family Trust for an estimated $4.65 Billion.
The sale price more than doubles the most recent sale of the NFL's Carolina Panthers for $2.275 Billion in 2018 to David Tepper. It's also the highest price paid for a franchise in North American Sports History, and only second all-time for any franchise to the recent sale of Chelsea Football Club in England. That transaction took place just a few weeks ago for over $5 Billion.
When the announcement was made in January that the Broncos would be sold, several names were thrown out as potential buyers. As billionaires and their friends did their due diligence, the list of serious buyers was whittled down to four serious contenders. And while all four groups had the resources to make competitive bids north of $4 Billion, once Rob Walton's name was in the mix, it was simply a question of how high would the price go, and how much was he willing to pony up to secure one of the crown jewel franchises in American sports. Walton's estimated $65-70 Billion net worth was built largely from being born the son of Sam Walton, founder of Walmart. Once he takes the reins of the Broncos, he'll become the richest owner in the NFL and the second wealthiest in U.S. Pro Sports behind only Steve Ballmer, owner of the Clippers.
His ownership won't be his solely, although his vote will likely count the most when it matters, but, he is also partnering with his daughter Carrie Penner, and her husband, Greg Penner, who is the current Chairman of Walmart replacing his father-in-law in 2015, when Walton stepped down. It's expected some of their children will likely be involved in the organization as well.
"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," Walton said in a statement released by the team. "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."
It was also announced by Walton in his statement, that Mellody Hobson, current Independent Starbucks Board of Directors chair and Ariel Investments, LLC, co-chief executive officer. It's unclear what percentage her ownership will be, but it does add diversity to the ownership group, something Commissioner Roger Goodell said was important to the league. Another fun fact about Hobson, her husband is Star Wars creator George Lucas. That will certainly excite Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett, who is an admitted Star Wars super-fan.
The timetable for the ownership transition isn't established yet. The purchase still needs to be reviewed by the NFL Finance Committee and League Ownership, and that could take a little bit of time. But Team President Joe Ellis said in January, and reiterated in March, that he expected the new ownership group to be in place by the start of the season. This certainly seems to keep that target well within reach, and perhaps before the team opens training camp in July.
"I have enjoyed getting to know Rob Walton, Carrie Walton Penner and Greg Penner throughout this process. Learning more about their background and vision for the Denver Broncos, I am confident that their leadership and support will help this team achieve great things on and off the field," Ellis said in a statement released by the team. "While this purchase and sale agreement is pending approval from the NFL’s finance committee and league ownership, today marks a significant step on the path to an exciting new chapter in Broncos history."
Ellis also said at the March meetings, that a new stadium was priority number one for any new owner. Or, significant renovations to the current stadium are a possibility. The football club purchased a significant amount of land south of Empower Field at Mile High and there are a number of ideas to erect a new mixed-use residential/retail area adjacent to the Broncos stadium. Rob Walton, is first cousin's with Ann Walton-Kroenke, who's father Bud Walton, helped Sam Walton start Walmart. Her husband Stan Kroenke, as many people know, owns the Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche, as well as the Super Bowl Champion Los Angeles Rams.
There is some rumblings that the Kroenke's and their relatives who will now own the Broncos, could join forces to develop the land adjacent to Ball Arena where Elitch Garden's currently sits, and combine it with the land assets south of the football stadium, but that's down the road. There's also the possibility that Walton and his group want to build a new stadium, and so the question becomes would the privately fund it, the way Kroenke did with Ball Arena(formerly Pepsi Center) as well as the SoFi Stadium complex the Rams, Chargers and NFL Network call home in Los Angeles? Or, would they want taxpayer help, the way Pat Bowlen financed the Broncos new home in 2001, and a route most sports franchises often take, including the Buffalo Bills with their new stadium project.
All of that, and plenty more will be decided in the near future, but for now, Broncos Country can celebrate the start of a new era, as well as salute the Pat Bowlen era, that began in 1984. The run in his tenure was remarkable with 7 Super Bowl appearances and 3 wins, as well as more playoff appearances than losing seasons.
This new Broncos ownership certainly is buying in at an exciting time, as the Broncos are now armed with a very well respected second-year general manager in George Paton, a new energetic head coach in Hackett, and a future Hall-of-Fame QB in Russell Wilson. Now all they need to do to truly make Broncos Country happy is to hoist another Vince Lombardi Trophy or 3 or 4, as Wilson said he was hoping for at his introductory press conference.
"We look forward to earning the confidence and support of the NFL as we take the next step in this process," Walton said. "When the necessary approval procedures are met, our family is excited to share more with Broncos fans, the organization and the community."