The Denver Broncos entered into a $4.65 billion sale agreement Tuesday with the heirs to the Walmart fortune, the most ever paid for a North American sports franchise.
For the Walton-Penner family ownership group to be allowed to purchase the team, the sale agreement must be reviewed by the NFL’s finance committee and approved by the NFL owners. At least 24 of the 32 owners must vote for the deal’s approval. The process is expected to take 60 to 90 days to finalize.
The Walton-Penner group is headed by Rob Walton, the oldest son of Walmart founder Sam Walton, and includes his daughter, Carrie Walton Penner; her husband, Greg Penner; and co-CEO of Ariel Investments and chair of the board of the Starbucks Corp, Mellody Hobson.
“Today marks a significant step on the path to an exciting new chapter in Broncos history,” Broncos CEO Joe Ellis said.
The Broncos’ final sale price doubles the previous NFL franchise sales record, set in 2018 when David Tepper bought the Carolina Panthers for $2.3 billion. It also trumps the former record sale price for any North American sports franchise, established in 2020 when Steve Cohen agreed to purchase the New York Mets for $2.475 billion.
Globally, the highest price paid for a sports franchise was recently set by a group led by Todd Boehly, who has interests in the Los Angeles Dodgers and Los Angeles Lakers among his vast portfolio. The group purchased the English Premier League soccer club, Chelsea, for more than $5 billion.
The Walton-Penner group was one of four groups that had advanced to the second round of bidding for the Broncos this week. The other groups were led by Josh Harris, Jose E. Feliciano, and Mat Ishbia. Bids from the groups were due by 5 p.m. ET Monday. Offers from these groups reportedly came in between $4.35 billion and $4.55 billion.
“We are thrilled to be selected to move forward with the purchase of the Denver Broncos!” Walton said in a statement. “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 sale agreement ends an eight-year saga for the Broncos since prior owner Pat Bowlen stepped down from the team’s day-to-day operations. He had owned the team for 30 years when he stepped down in July 2014 due to Alzheimer’s disease. Bowlen died in 2019.
Bowlen and his siblings originally paid $78 million in 1984 for majority shares in the Broncos. Bowlen later purchased the shares held by his sister and two brothers.
The team had more Super Bowl appearances (seven) than losing seasons during Bowlen’s tenure.
Bowlen never declared a successor among his children when he stepped away from the Broncos and had his shares in the team (around 78%) placed in a trust controlled by Ellis, Broncos counsel Rich Slivka, and Denver attorney Mary Kelly.
Bowlen’s family members then became embroiled in a contentious lawsuit over control of the team that coincided with six consecutive years of missed playoff appearances for the Broncos. The team’s win at Super Bowl 50 in 2015 was Denver’s last appearance in a postseason game.
The sale agreement with the Walton-Penner group also means that Walton and Stan Kroenke, his 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, in addition to a regional media company in the state.