Five prospective buyers, including a group backed by one of the richest people in America, are moving to the next round of bidding for the Denver Broncos, according to someone familiar with the process.
Rob Walton, an heir to the Walmart fortune who is worth nearly $70 billion, is among the bidders who have already submitted non-binding offers for the NFL club. A group led by 76ers and Devils co-owner Josh Harris and a group led by Los Angeles Dodgers investor Todd Boehly have also submitted initial offers, said the person, who was granted anonymity because the process is private. All will have in-person meetings with Broncos leadership at the beginning of May.
Both Harris and Boehly are also in the running to acquire English soccer giant Chelsea. It’s unclear who is leading the other two groups, and others could reach this stage before the management meetings in a few weeks.
Representatives for the team and Allen & Company, which is handling the sale for the trust of late Broncos owner Pat Bowlen, declined to comment.
These offers, while preliminary, come after weeks of analyzing the NFL club’s books and give an early indication of how each bidder is valuing the franchise. While it’s unlikely the prospective buyers will glean much more about the business of the football team during next month’s management meetings, they will likely focus more on the real estate opportunities around the stadium, a vital revenue stream for modern sports franchises.
Last season Sportico valued the Broncos at $3.8 billion. Anything near that price would be the most anyone has ever paid for a U.S. sports team. The current record is the $3.3 billion that Joe Tsai paid for the Brooklyn Nets and the rights to operate the Barclays Center in a deal completed in 2019.
All five Broncos groups are expected to have minority investors, a stated priority of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. While that’s difficult to require in an estate sale—the trustees have a fiduciary obligation to sell to the highest qualified bidder—Goodell has spoken openly about the league’s belief that it can diversify it ranks while maximizing the value of the club. There are very few non-white NFL owners, even among team limited partners.
Rob Walton’s presence in this auction could serve to chill the market a bit, given his family’s immense wealth. Rob is worth $69.2 billion, according to Bloomberg, making him the 11th richest person in the U.S. (His brother Jim is 10th, and his sister Alice is 12th). He is far richer than any current NFL owner. He also has family ties to the league—Rob’s cousin Ann is married to Los Angeles Rams owner Stan Kroenke.
Walton’s group includes his son-in-law Greg Penner, chairman of the Walmart board and founder of Madrone Capital Partners.
Harris, worth about $7.56 billion, is co-founder and managing general partner of Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment, the parent of the NBA’s 76ers, NHL’s Devils, the Prudential Center and a handful of other properties. He is also an investor in English soccer club Crystal Palace.
Boehly is a minority owner in both the Los Angeles Dodgers and Los Angeles Lakers. His Eldridge Industries has investments across sports and tech, including stakes in Epic Games, DraftKings and Cloud9. Last year, a Boehly-backed SPAC took Vivid Seats public in a $1.95 billion deal.
The Broncos sale is being viewed within the sports business world as a litmus test for soaring franchise valuations, particularly in the NFL, the world’s richest sports league. The average NFL franchise is now worth $3.5 billion, according to Sportico—and as those valuations continue to rise, the pool of people who can afford to buy in becomes smaller and smaller.
NFL guidelines require a controlling owner to hold at least 30% of a team, and the debt limit on a purchase is $1 billion. Ownership groups are limited to 25 people and cannot include private equity funds.