Who’s buying the Denver Broncos? Biggest sale in North American sports history is coming

  • Covered Broncos for nine years for Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News
  • Previously covered Steelers, Bills and Titans
  • Member of Pro Football Hall of Fame Board
    of Selectors since 1999

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — On a sun-soaked day in July 2014, just as the Denver Broncos were set to open their third training camp with quarterback Peyton Manning, then-team president Joe Ellis made an announcement that led to the franchise being put up for sale.

Ellis let it be known that Broncos majority owner Pat Bowlen would no longer be part of the team’s operations due to Alzheimer’s disease. Bowlen had been a charismatic daily presence inside the team’s complex during a three-decade run of success that included more Super Bowl trips than losing seasons.

“It’s a day of tremendous sadness for the Bowlen family, all of our employees, people around the National Football League, and this region and this community,” Ellis said then. “Pat wants us to do two things. He wants us to win, he’s always wanted that and will continue to want that. Also he’s always wanted everybody here to do things the right way.”

A lot has happened in the eight years since that July announcement. After Bowlen died in 2019, there have been legal battles, court dates and harsh words within his family over ownership. The team was officially put up for sale on Feb. 1, and this week four groups were cleared to make their second round of bids for what is expected to be the largest team sale in the history of North American sports.

Sources confirmed this week a group led by Walmart heir Rob Walton, a group led by Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Devils owner Josh Harris, a group led by Mat Ishiba and a group led by Jose Feliciano and Behdad Eghbali were invited to the second round of bidding.

Many in the NFL expect the franchise’s new owner to be revealed by the end of the month with a completed deal by the start of the regular season. How did we get to this point and where do things go from here? Here are the answers:

Why are the Broncos for sale?

Bowlen never formally declared a successor to his majority ownership among his children, and when he stepped away from day-to-day operations, he had his interest in the team (estimated to be about 78% at the time) placed in a trust overseen by Ellis, Broncos’ consultant Rich Slivka and Denver attorney Mary Kelly.

At one point, in 2015, the trustees sent Annabel — Bowlen’s widow — and the children a formal outline of what would be required to be principal owner. That outline included an advanced degree as well as five years of senior management experience with an NFL team or league office. Bowlen’s hope had been one of them would emerge as the principal owner and be installed by the team trustees. If no agreement could be reached about which child would be principal owner the team would be sold.

The desire of Beth Bowlen Wallace, one of Bowlen’s daughters from his first marriage, to become controlling owner was rebuffed by the trustees. Brittany Bowlen, one of Bowlen’s daughters after his marriage to Annabel, had Ellis’ public support and a management position with the Broncos. But all seven of the children had to agree on the trustees’ selection of a principal owner and once selected the other six could not sell their interests in the team.

The result was a lawsuit, filed by Beth Bowlen Wallace and Amie Klemmer — Bowlen’s two oldest daughters, that charged the trust was not valid because, the suit said, Bowlen did not understand what he was signing due to the progression of his Alzheimer’s.

The lawsuit was dismissed in 2021 before a trial was set to begin, amid reports that a settlement may have been reached behind the scenes. Neither side has since commented.

When did they officially go on sale?

In January, a final legal hurdle to a sale was cleared when a Denver judge ruled the heirs of former Broncos owner Edgar Kaiser Jr. could not buy back any portion of the franchise as part of a right of first refusal agreement.

A holdings group, representing Kaiser’s estate, had petitioned the court that it had right of refusal for any sale of the franchise dating back to when Kaiser sold the team to Pat Bowlen in 1984. Kaiser died in 2012.

Denver District judge Shelley L. Gilman ruled Kaiser’s heirs had no claim, and the right of first refusal included in the 1984 sales agreement between Kaiser and Bowlen was “no longer valid or enforceable in any respect.”

The franchise was put up for sale officially on Feb. 1.

What is the price?

The process, which includes a heavy dose of non-disclosure agreements, includes Steve Greenburg of Allen & Company as a financial adviser and Joe Leccese of Proskauer Rose LLP as a legal adviser to the trustees.

In fall 2021, Forbes valued the Broncos at $3.75 billion, however, the Broncos are expected to fetch well over $4 billion and potentially $4.5 billion. The Carolina Panthers currently hold the record for most paid for an NFL franchise. David Tepper purchased the team for $2.275 billion in 2018. The most ever paid for a North American sports franchise was $2.475 billion by Steven Cohen to purchase the New York Mets in 2020.

Last month a group led by Todd Boehly, who has interests in the Los Angeles Dodgers and Los Angeles Lakers among his vast portfolio, purchased Chelsea in the English Premier League for more than $5 billion.

Bowlen and his siblings paid $78 million in 1984 for controlling interest in the Broncos. Bowlen later purchased the shares held by his sister and two brothers.

Who are the contenders to buy?

A second-round of formal bids for the Broncos were due Monday and multiple sources have said they believe four groups are involved, but many with the Broncos have privately maintained they don’t know which groups are still in the running given the trustees are controlling the sale.

Those groups are led by Walton, Harris, Ishiba and Feliciano/Eghbali, according to sources.

Walton’s net worth, estimated by Forbes at just over $59 billion, makes him a favorite. Stan Kroenke, who owns the Los Angeles Rams, Colorado Avalanche, Denver Nuggets and Colorado Rapids as well as a regional media network in Colorado, is married to Ann Walton, also a Walmart heir.

In the end, the trustees are bound by the original trust documents to take the largest verified bid. The NFL told interested parties that all of the bids must be fully financed or “capitalized” when submitted. This means all of the groups need at least $2.5 billion in cash available immediately.

Have the bidders checked out the goods?

The trustees and team officials have met with the prospective bidders. They have toured the team’s facilities as well as Empower Field at Mile High and have been briefed on the team’s place in the community and region.

Ellis has publicly said a new owner who is “visible” in and around the team is important to the trustees.

Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett said earlier this week he had met “a solid amount” of the potential bidders and added: “After talking to everybody, I think that they all have an amazing passion and want to be a part of this league and they want to be a part of a team. I think that’s something that’s really beautiful. They want to come to win, and they want to do something great here.”

What has to happen to close the deal?

After the most recent round of bidding, the trustees can accept a bid or move two finalists on for another round. Once a bid is selected, the new owner must meet with the NFL’s finance committee before the terms of the sale would come to the league owners for a vote. Twenty-four yes votes are needed to approve the sale.

A special meeting could be called and a vote taken by the owners in July or August, or the vote could come at a previously scheduled owners meeting after the start of the NFL’s regular season.

Ellis has consistently said he believes a new owner would be in place by the time the Broncos face the Seattle Seahawks Sept. 12 in the opener, but has also added “don’t hold me to that.”

Source: Read Full Article