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Group led by Walmart heir Rob Walton agrees to buy Broncos for $4.65 billion

Rob Walton speaks at a Walmart shareholders meeting in Fayetteville, Ark., in 2015. (Danny Johnston/AP)

An ownership group led by Walmart heir Rob Walton reached an agreement to purchase the Denver Broncos for $4.65 billion, which would shatter the record sale price for an NFL franchise.

The purchase price was confirmed Tuesday night by a person familiar with the matter. The Broncos announced the agreement, which is subject to approval by the NFL’s finance committee and other franchise owners, without announcing the price.

“We look forward to earning the confidence and support of the NFL as we take the next step in this process,” Walton said in a statement released by the team. “When the necessary approval procedures are met, our family is excited to share more with Broncos fans, the organization and the community.”

Walton announced that Mellody Hobson, the co-CEO of Ariel Investments, agreed to join his ownership group. Hobson, who is Black, also is the chair of the board of the Starbucks Corporation and a director of JPMorgan Chase.

“We know she will bring her strategic acumen and leadership perspective to our team,” Walton said.

NFL owners approved a resolution in March endorsing diversity in franchise ownership.

The previous two NFL franchises to be sold were the Buffalo Bills, who were purchased by Terry and Kim Pegula from the Ralph Wilson estate for $1.4 billion in 2014, and the Carolina Panthers, bought by David Tepper from Jerry Richardson for $2.275 billion in 2018.

Forbes, in its annual estimates of NFL franchise values, in August pegged the worth of the Broncos at $3.75 billion, 10th highest in the league. The Dallas Cowboys led the way at $6.5 billion.

The Broncos are being sold by the Pat Bowlen Trust. The franchise’s ownership situation had been muddled in recent years by squabbles among the heirs of late owner Pat Bowlen and more recently was complicated further by litigation brought by the estate of another previous owner over a right of first refusal.

“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,” Joe Ellis, the team’s president and chief executive officer, said in a statement.

Forbes listed Walton, 77, as the world’s 22nd-wealthiest person with an estimated net worth of $57.9 billion as of Wednesday. He would become the NFL’s wealthiest owner.

The new ownership group also includes Walton’s daughter, Carrie Walton Penner, and his son-in-law, Greg Penner.

“I have enjoyed getting to know Rob Walton, Carrie Walton Penner and Greg Penner throughout this process,” Ellis said. “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.”

Stan Kroenke, the owner of the Los Angeles Rams, is married to Ann Walton Kroenke, another Walmart heir.

The deal for the Broncos must be approved by at least 24 of the 32 NFL teams. It was not immediately clear Tuesday night when the transaction will be closed and the deal ratified.

The other finalists in the bidding were groups led by Josh Harris, the owner of the Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Devils; Mat Ishbia, the president and CEO of United Wholesale Mortgage; and Jose Feliciano and Behdad Eghbali, the co-founders of Clearlake Capital.

Ellis and two other trustees retained the authority to oversee a sale. A 2019 lawsuit filed by Bowlen’s two eldest children, Beth Bowlen Wallace and Amie Klemmer, contended Bowlen did not have the capacity to sign his estate documents and was improperly influenced by the trustees. The lawsuit was dismissed last year at their request.

The sale proceeded after the resolution of a lawsuit brought by the estate for former Broncos owner Edgar Kaiser Jr. Kaiser’s estate contended that it continued to hold a right of first refusal over a potential sale, stemming from the agreement when Pat Bowlen bought the Broncos from Kaiser in 1984. A settlement was reached in April.

The record sale price reinforces the financial might of the NFL. The collective bargaining agreement completed in 2020 between the NFL and the NFL Players Association provided labor peace and authorized team owners to implement new revenue-boosting measures, such as expanded playoffs and a 17-game regular season.

Last year, the NFL completed a new set of television and streaming deals worth more than $110 billion over 11 years. Meanwhile, the league and its teams expected to generate about $270 million last year from sports betting and gambling partnerships, with an eye toward that figure reaching $1 billion per year this decade.

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