The billionaire private equity founders behind the recent purchase of Chelsea are fronting one of the bids for the Denver Broncos, according to someone familiar with the process.
Behdad Eghbali and José Feliciano, cofounders of Clearlake Capital, are leading a group looking to buy the NFL team, said the person, who was granted anonymity because the matter is private. There are at least five bidders remaining in what is expected to be the most expensive franchise sale in sports history, with the next round of bids due on June 6.
Their group includes prominent sports and entertainment investor Todd Boehly and Guggenheim Partners CEO Mark Walter, who were also part of consortium that just purchased Chelsea. Boehly was previously named as a Broncos bidder, but it was unclear whether he was fronting the group or playing a smaller role.
Representatives for the Broncos and Allen & Company, which was retained to sell the team, declined to comment. Eghbali declined to comment; representatives for Clearlake didn’t immediately return an email.
Eghbali and Feliciano would be investing personally, not via Clearlake Capital. The NFL is the last major U.S. league that prohibits private equity firms from owning even minority stakes in teams. League rules state that a controlling owner must hold at least 30% of the equity in a team, and that up to $1 billion in debt can be used for new purchases.
If successful, the two would bring diversity to the NFL ownership ranks, a stated goal of commissioner Roger Goodell and a common theme throughout the ongoing Broncos sale. Eghbali was born in Iran and came to the U.S. when he was 10; Feliciano was born and raised in Puerto Rico.
Clearlake Capital was the primary financial backer of the consortium that just purchased European soccer giant Chelsea—the group agreed to pay about $3.16 billion (£2.5 billion) for the team, and committed to spending another $2.21 billion (£1.75 billion) to help it remain competitive. That consortium, often called “the Boehly group” by the media, closed on the deal over the weekend. Under terms of the agreement, Clearlake and Boehly will share joint control and equal governance of the club, with Boehly serving as chairman.
The Broncos are being sold by the trust of late owner Pat Bowlen, who died in 2019 without declaring which of his seven children he preferred to replace him as the team’s primary owner. At least five groups have submitted initial bids and traveled to Denver for management meetings in the past month. Other bidders include Walmart heir Rob Walton, one of the richest men in the country; and Philadelphia 76ers co-owner Josh Harris.
Sportico values the Broncos at $3.8 billion, 11th-highest in the NFL. The record for a sports team in a transaction 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.
Eghbali and Feliciano founded Clearlake Capital in 2006. The Santa Monica firm, which now has more than $72 billion under management, has led or co-led more than 300 investments. Eghbali and Feliciano are each worth $3.4 billion, according to Forbes.