If you want something for yourself, you’ve got to be willing to pay the price. And it’s clear how badly Rob Walton wanted the Denver Broncos.
The Walmart heir and his family entered an agreement with the Denver Broncos to buy the team for a whopping $4.65 billion, the Broncos announced late Tuesday night. Walton outbid four finalists vying to purchase the team from the estate of former owner Pat Bowlen. Final bids were submitted Monday at 3 p.m. by each group, which included Walton, owner of the New Jersey Devils and managing partner of the Philadelphia 76ers Josh Harris, co-founder of private investment firm Clearlake Capital Jose E. Feliciano, and United Wholesale Mortgage president and CEO Matt Ishbia.
The purchase marks the most expensive sale price for a sports franchise in the United States, surpassing the previous record set in 2018 when David Tepper bought the Carolina Panthers for $2.275 billion. Walton’s net worth is currently valued at roughly $58 billion, which will make him the richest NFL owner.
The 77-year-old former chair of Walmart and son to the late Walmart founder Sam Walton will be the controlling majority owner of the team. His daughter Carrie Walton Penner and his son-in-law Greg Penner (who took over for Rob in 2015 as Walmart board chairman) joined him in the purchase as minority owners. Mellody Hobson, who serves as the CEO of Ariel Investments, the current chair of the board of Starbucks Corporation, and director of JPMorgan Chase, is also part of the Walton-Penner ownership group, the family announced Tuesday.
The deal marks the end to the team’s years-long search for a new controlling owner, after former Broncos owner Pat Bowlen relinquished day-to-day control of the franchise to a non-familial trust in 2014 amid his ongoing battle with Alzheimer’s. The trust, which included Broncos president Joe Ellis, team counsel Rich Slivka, and Pat’s personal attorney Mary Kelly, were tasked with finding the next owner for the team. After several years of public infighting among Bowlen’s heirs over succession plans, the trust listed the team for sale earlier this year.
“I have enjoyed getting to know Rob Walton, Carrie Walton Penner and Greg Penner throughout this process,” Ellis said in a written statement from the team Tuesday. “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.”
The new ownership will not technically be official until approved by the NFL finance committee. Twenty four of the 32 total NFL owners must also vote to accept the Walton-Penner sale at a special meeting before the start of the season (a date has not been determined yet). That includes Stan Kroenke, owner of the Los Angeles Rams, Denver Nuggets, and Colorado Avalanche, who is married to Ann Walton Kroenke, Rob Walton’s cousin and fellow Walmart heir.
“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,” Rob Walton wrote on behalf of the ownership group in a statement Tuesday. “We look forward to earning the confidence and support of the NFL as we take the next step in this process.”
The new ownership group also has its sights set on Peyton Manning. They said that they are hoping to bring the former Broncos quarterback on as a minority investor, advisor, or both.
Many fans have wondered if the new ownership group might move forward with building a new state-of-the-art stadium for the franchise. Discussion about the idea has included concern about whether the team’s new billionaire owner would ask taxpayers for help with the estimated $2 billion price tag for a new facility. There has also been talk about the possibility of it being built outside the city limits.
Regardless, the Broncos are heading into the 2022-’23 season with a new star quarterback in Russell Wilson and new head coach in Nathaniel Hackett. The new ownership group—and their financial resources—only adds to the anticipation surrounding what the next era of the Broncos could look like.