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Denver Broncos ownership: What we know and what comes next in the pending sale

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Nathaniel Hackett has his hands full during his first offseason as a head coach. He’s incorporating a new offense, building a rapport with new star quarterback Russell Wilson and generally becoming accustomed to the day-to-day demands put on his position in the NFL.

Still, even with all that going on as the Broncos enter their third week of organized team activities, there is no ignoring the franchise’s biggest story. With a second round of bids from candidates due by the end of the day Monday, the organization is rapidly moving toward resolution in an ownership saga that has lasted the better part of the past decade.

“My job is to get the team ready,” Hackett said Monday. “For us it’s about winning, no matter who is going to own the team. Everyone who has been a part of (the bid process), it’s been very exciting to have them (potentially) be part of the Denver Broncos. We’ll see where it goes. ”

Who are the potential new owners?

Four groups were expected to submit bids Monday, according to a source. That’s cut from a group of roughly 10 who initially expressed significant interest in purchasing an organization that has won three Super Bowls and has appeared in eight title games.

Those groups, as first reported by 9News, are led by Walmart heir Rob Walton, the former chairman of the company co-founded by his late father, Sam; Josh Harris, the owner of the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers and the NHL’s New Jersey Devils; Jose E. Feliciano and Behdad Eghbali, founders of the private equity firm Clearlake Capital; and Mat Ishbia, president and CEO of the Michigan-based mortgage lender UWM Holdings and a reserve guard on the 2000 national champion Michigan State men’s basketball team.

Is Walton the front-runner?

Walton, due in large part to a personal fortune estimated to be in excess of $ 60 billion, has been viewed as the front-runner in the bid to purchase the franchise, which was officially put up for sale in February, ever since he surfaced as a potential buyer in April. Forbes reported Monday morning, citing banking sources, that Walton was expected to acquire the team with a winning bid of roughly $ 4.5 billion, but a source told The Athletic that no clear front-runner had been identified before the submission of the second round of bids.

That doesn’t mean it takes much of a logical leap to view Walton, whose family includes several Colorado natives, as the likely candidate to win the auction-style bidding process, which will put a new owner in place for the first time since Pat Bowlen bought the team in 1984 for roughly $ 70 million. The 77-year-old Walton would instantly become the richest owner in the NFL and would rank behind only Steve Ballmer, owner of the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers, among the richest owners of North American pro sports franchises. Walton, ranked as the 18th-richest person in the world by the Bloomberg Billionaire Index, was the chairman of the board of directors at Walmart from 1992, when his father passed away, until 2015. He then handed the position down to his son- in-law, Greg Penner, who is also a part of the bid. Walton is a cousin by marriage of Stan Kroenke, owner of the Los Angeles Rams. Kroenke Sports & Entertainment, of which Stan Kroenke is the founder, also owns the Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche as part of a large sports team ownership portfolio.

The NFL’s rules require a lead investor in a franchise group to own at least 30 percent of the franchise, and the Walton bar could easily clear given his wealth.


Walmart heir Rob Walton has long been viewed as the front-runner, although the second round of the bidding process is still underway through the end of Monday. 04.30 Rick T. Wilking / Getty Images

Who is most likely to challenge Walton?

The other bidders also have intriguing credentials, if not the same sheer fortune as Walton. Harris’ group, as The Athletic confirmed last month, is also set to include Magic Johnson, the Hall of Famer and former Los Angeles Lakers star who is also part of the group that owns the Los Angeles Dodgers. Feliciano and Eghbali, according to Forbes, oversee $ 43 billion in assets through Clearlake Capital. They were backers in Todd Boehly’s successful Premier League club Chelsea FC for what equated to roughly $ 5.3 billion in US currency. Ishbia has a net worth of $ 4.5 billion, according to Forbes, and owns a 70 percent stake in UWM Holdings, the mortgage-lending firm founded by his father in 1986.

Is there a priority on bringing in a minority owner?

The NFL is watching the sales process for the Broncos with significant interest. The league has made no secret about its desire to see minority representation within any new ownership group, but the trust currently running the Broncos also has a fiduciary responsibility to Bowlen’s heirs to sell the franchise for the highest price.

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“We would be very clear – and we have already with the Broncos – that (diversity) is something we would seek to have in the ownership group,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said during his Super Bowl news conference in February. “We’ll certainly try to encourage that as the process goes along.”

What’s the timeline for a sale?

Broncos president and CEO Joe Ellis said at the NFL owners’ meetings in March that the team was on pace to complete the sale, with final league approval, by the start of the 2022 season in September, a goal that appears to be on target. From the beginning, Ellis told reporters at the meetings, “there is really a significant amount of interest from a number of very, very qualified bidders.”

“It’s exciting for the fans,” said Ellis, a member of the three-person Pat D. Bowlen Trust. “The team needs a new owner. It’s time for that. ”

The Broncos have been officially run by the trust since 2014, when Bowlen stepped down as the day-to-day leader of the franchise because of complications from Alzheimer’s disease, though Ellis and then president of football operations John Elway had fled handling many of those duties as early as 2011. Bowlen died in 2019, the same year he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The trust was charged with determining the next steps in the ownership process. The priority had been to identify a qualified ownership candidate among Bowlen’s heirs, but after years of infighting that at times spilled into public view and a number of lawsuits, the trust announced Feb. 1 that the team would be officially put up for sale. It was a decision that ended at least a decade of uncertainty about the future of one of the region’s most cherished institutions.

Now, the final piece of clarity is closing in. After the second round of bids are submitted and analyzed, the process could move quickly towards the league approval process, although an exact timetable is still unclear. Ultimately, an ownership group has to be endorsed by the league’s finance committee and receive “yes” votes from 75 percent of the league’s ownership body to be formally approved.

Hackett, who met with “a solid amount” of members of potential ownership groups as they made separate tours of the team’s facility and Empower Field at Mile High, said he’s excited for the franchise’s future, regardless of who takes the mantle from the most revered owner in the state’s sporting history.

“After talking to everybody, I think they all have an amazing passion and want to be part of this league and part of a team,” Hackett said. “I think that’s something really beautiful. That wants to come to win and do something great here. ”

(Top photo: Dustin Bradford / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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