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With a new star quarterback in Russell Wilson, a new head coach in Nathaniel Hackett, and a general manager in George Paton who’s headed into his sophomore season, the Denver Broncos appear poised for a promising year. But one major question has yet to be answered: Who will be the franchise’s owner when the 2022-’23 NFL season kicks off?
The years-long ownership dispute for the Broncos appears to finally be coming to an end as the NFL gave the team a firm deadline to select a new owner by this offseason after years of infighting among members of the Bowlen family. Broncos president Joe Ellis and his fellow trustees are working to wrap up the sale before the season starts—and recent reports suggest the final price could soar past $5 billion.
Earlier this spring, the team whittled its candidate pool down to five prospects. The trustees are obligated to take the highest bid, and recent speculation has been circling around two front-runners. As we approach what could be the biggest business deal in sports history, we compiled a brief curriculum vitae for the buyers vying for ownership of the Broncos—plus, some speculations on who the other potential purchasers might be.
The 77-year-old mogul and son of late Walmart founder Sam Walton, Rob Walton is thought to be a likely front-runner for one reason: his sheer wealth. (Walton’s estimated net worth is $70 billion.) Coincidentally, Rob’s cousin and fellow Walmart heir, Ann Walton Kroenke, is married to Stan Kroenke, the owner of the Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche (and the Los Angeles Rams, the English Premier League’s Arsenal FC, and several other sports franchises). Aside from Walton’s lack of experience owning a professional sports franchise, the billionaire’s age has also raised early questions from traumatized Denverites about who might succeed Walton (signs point to his son-in-law, Greg Penner, who took over for Rob as Walmart board chairman in 2015).
The owner of the New Jersey Devils and managing partner of the Philadelphia 76ers, Josh Harris is the other publicly known front-runner interested in buying the Broncos. Harris recently looped NBA Hall-of-Famer Earvin “Magic” Johnson into his bidding group, creating a duo that would bring significant experience with sports franchises to the table. The 57-year-old Harris was also the co-founder of Apollo Global Management (though he notably stepped down from his day-to-day role at the firm earlier this year following co-founder Leon Black’s sudden resignation amid backlash for his ties to Jeffrey Epstein). Harris’ net worth is currently estimated to be around $7.56 billion.
Comedian and media executive of Allen Media Group Byron Allen was rumored as one of the early parties interested in the team, and was reported on Thursday as being one of the five finalists in the running to buy the Broncos (along with a group of investors). If Allen’s bid were to win, he would become the first Black owner of an NFL franchise.
Current co-owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers Todd Boehly is considered to be one of the other likely leaders of a bidding group to purchase the Broncos.This past week, however, news reports confirmed that a separate buying group led by Boehly had purchased the Premier League’s Chelsea Football Club for the equivalent of roughly $5.2 billion, making it unlikely that he has the capital to purchase the Broncos.
“BuyTheBroncos” Cryptocurrency Group
Earlier this year, a group of cryptocurrency enthusiasts launched a decentralized autonomous organization (DAO) under the name “BuyTheBroncos” in an effort to raise at least $4 billion to, ahem, buy the Broncos. The group includes a collective of investors, including attorneys, accountants, software developers, pro athletes, and at least one mathematician (and, in the future, any interested fan could buy in). Even Governor Jared Polis has signaled his support for the bid. As of this week, the cadre is still serious about its bid, according to Sean O’Brien, one of the group’s leaders. Given the conservative nature of the NFL, though, it appears unlikely that the league would approve a decentralized ownership option.
Peyton Manning and John Elway
Fans were excited at the possibility of the beloved Hall of Fame quarterbacks joining bidding groups to buy the Broncos when the team was listed for sale in February. Manning had expressed interest, but has since fallen silent on the matter and has no reported commitment to any of the current buyer groups. The likelihood of having Elway in the owner’s box has also waned, with Elway expressing interest in only having involvement with a new ownership group in “an advisory or consultant capacity.”