Rob Walton was approved unanimously as the next owner of the Denver Broncos today at a special NFL owners meeting in Minneapolis. The sale is expected to close later this month.
The billionaire Walmart heir reached an agreement to pay $4.65 billion for the Broncos in June, the highest price ever for a sports franchise. The previous record price for a sports team was $3.3 billion, set when Joe Tsai bought the Brooklyn Nets and operating rights to the Barclays Center in 2019. It was the first sale of an NFL franchise since 2018, when David Tepper paid a then-NFL record $2.28 billion for the Carolina Panthers.
“We will strive to make the Denver Broncos the best team to cheer for, play for and work for in all of sports,” Walton said in a statement released after the vote.
Walton’s ownership group includes his daughter, Carrie, and son-in-law, Greg Penner, who succeeded Rob as Walmart chairman. Ariel Investments co-CEO Mellody Hobson, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and F1 driver Lewis Hamilton are also part of the cap table.
“This is a group that is going to be great for the Denver community,” Roger Goodell, NFL commissioner, said in a brief press conference Tuesday. “Their commitment to winning, but more importantly their commitment to making sure the Broncos franchise is an important part of the Denver community. We’re thrilled about that.”
Former Broncos owner Pat Bowlen died in 2019 without a firm succession plan, so when the Broncos went on the market earlier this year, bidders were well-prepared. The other three groups that submitted second-round offers were led by Clearlake Capital co-founders Behdad Eghbali and José E. Feliciano; Philadelphia 76ers co-owner Josh Harris; and the Ishbia brothers, Justin and Mat. Bowlen bought the team in 1984 for $78 million.
NFL team sales are extremely rare—Bowlen bought the Broncos back in 1984 for $78 million—and the average ownership tenure is four decades. The in-person approval process is used to welcome the new owner to the exclusive club of NFL ownership, but also offers an opportunity for the previous owner to get a proper sendoff. With Bowlen’s death, the three trustees of the estate—Joe Ellis, Rich Slivka and Mary Kelly—were at Tuesday’s meeting.
The Broncos rank in the middle of the NFL pack by revenue—the club is projected to generate $540 million during the 2022 season, including roughly $370 million from the NFL’s national media and sponsorship deals. But there is significant upside in the economically vibrant Denver market. The Broncos possess a passionate fan base and have the region to themselves, with no NFL franchise located within 500 miles. The key to unlocking that value will be a new stadium to replace Empower Field at Mile High, which opened in 2001. A stadium project could cost up to $2 billion, but Walton certainly has the deep pockets to foot that entire bill.