The Denver Broncos are moving closer to being sold.
In the clearest indication yet that an ownership change is imminent, representatives for the team last month interviewed potential sell-side bankers, according to multiple people familiar with the meetings.
At least four different groups have met with the team, said the people, who were granted anonymity because the details are private. The franchise is currently controlled by the trust of late owner Pat Bowlen, but its long-term ownership future has been mired in uncertainty and legal challenges as Bowlen’s children disagree over who should control the team, or if it should be sold.
It’s unclear which specific banks participated in the discussions. Team spokesman Patrick Smyth declined to confirm any meetings with bankers, but said the team is “currently not for sale.”
“As [team CEO and Bowlen trustee] Joe Ellis said in July, the ownership transition will be addressed at some point after the season,” Smyth said.
If the Broncos are sold it will be for a record price. The NFL is the world’s richest sports league, and its franchises don’t trade often. Only two controlling stakes—the Carolina Panthers (2018) and Buffalo Bills (2014)—have been sold over the past nine years.
As franchise valuations soar, many in the industry are looking at Denver as a litmus test for how high the market can go. Sportico recently valued the Broncos at $3.8 billion, No. 11 in the 32-team league. The current record valuation for a sports team in a controlling transaction is the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets, which were valued at $3.3 billion when Joe Tsai bought the rest of the franchise and Barclays Center in 2019.
The Broncos are currently controlled by the three-person Patrick D. Bowlen Trust, and operated by Ellis. The trust was established to handle Bowlen’s estate and name a new principal owner following his death in 2019. Bowlen died without declaring which of his seven children he preferred to replace him as the team’s primary decision-maker, a requirement under the NFL’s ownership rules.
Right now, each of Bowlen’s children own about 11% of the team, with that equity held in the trust (Pat’s brother, John, owns the rest in a single non-voting stake). Bowlen’s two eldest daughters previously filed a lawsuit, claiming that their father was not of sound mind and was unduly influenced when he changed the terms of the trust in 2009. That lawsuit was dismissed in July, clearing a legal hurdle but offering no more clarity on the future of the team.
Some of Bowlen’s children would prefer that the team be sold; others would prefer it stay in the family, with current team senior vice president Brittany Bowlen having emerged as the likely controlling owner in such a scenario. Then there’s the question of what the league would prefer. Owners tend to look after each other, but they also value stability and financial certainty.
One last layer of complexity: the team is currently in a separate legal battle with the estate of former owner Edgar Kaiser, which claims it has the right to match any offer if the team’s shares are sold. That would obviously dramatically change any sale process. A judge’s ruling is expected in the next few months.
(The story was updated to correct the valuation of the Nets and Barclays Center when Tsai took control of the team and arena, and to correct the spelling of Patrick Smyth’s name.)