Billionaire Rob Walton has won the bidding for the Denver Broncos.
The Walmart heir, one of the richest people in the U.S., has reached an agreement to acquire the NFL franchise, according to a statement released by the team late Tuesday night. The deal is worth about $4.6 billion, according to someone familiar with the agreement, by far the most expensive price ever paid for a sports franchise.
The deal still needs approval from the NFL’s finance committee and league ownership, though Walton’s credentials will likely make that an easy process. The group includes Carrie Walton Penner, Rob’s daughter, and Carrie’s husband Greg Penner, who is founder and general partner of Madrone Capital Partners.
“We look forward to earning the confidence and support of the NFL as we take the next step in this process,” Walton said in a statement. “When the necessary procedures are met, our family is excited to share more with Broncos fans, the organization and the community.”
Should the deal be approved, it would deepen the Walton family’s ties in U.S. sports. Rob’s cousin Ann is married to Stan Kroenke, who owns the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams, the NBA’s Denver Nuggets, the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche, and MLS’s Colorado Rapids.
The lack of diversity in the NFL ownership ranks has been a central part of the conversation around the Broncos sale, particularly because estate sales typically have to go to the highest qualified bidder. Walton said Tuesday night that Mellody Hobson, co-CEO of Ariel Investments, was part of his group. Hobson, who is black, is married to filmmaker George Lucas and chairs the Starbucks board.
The announcement comes just one day after second-round bids were due on the team. The other groups that submitted offers on Monday were led by Clearlake Capital co-founders Behdad Eghbali and Jose Feliciano; Philadelphia 76ers co-owner Josh Harris; and the Ishbia brothers, Justin and Mat.
Walton, however, loomed large over the entire sale. He is worth about $60 billion, according to Bloomberg, which will make him the NFL’s richest owner by a factor of three. That wealth cooled the process a bit, with other bid groups cognizant of the fact that Walton would likely win any lengthy auction. In the past few weeks, those same groups began to wonder if a bidding war with Walton might serve to make it more expensive to buy the next NFL team that hits the market, whichever it might be.
“Today marks a significant step on the path to an exciting new chapter in Broncos history,” team president Joe Ellis said in a statement.
The Broncos formally hit the market earlier this year, but it was a sale that many lawyers, bankers and investors were prepared for. Former Broncos owner Pat Bowlen died in 2019 without a firm succession plan for the franchises, and while it took a while for a few lawsuits to settle, the general assumption was that his trust would eventually sell the team.
The previous highest price paid for an NFL franchise was the roughly $2.3 billion paid by David Tepper, currently the NFL’s richest owner, to buy the Carolina Panthers in 2018. The last three NFL sales have each happened at double the previous prices, going from the Buffalo Bills in 2014 ($1.4 billion) to the Panthers in 2018 ($2.3 billion) to the Broncos in 2022 ($4.65 billion).
The previous record for valuation of a sports team in a transaction was the $3.3 billion paid by Joe Tsai to purchase of the Brooklyn Nets and the rights to operate the Barclays Center in 2019.
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— Sportico (@Sportico) June 8, 2022
(This story has corrected the sale price of the Buffalo Bills to $1.4 billion from $1.1 billion in the penultimate paragraph.)