Denver Broncos confirm new ownership pending, led by Walmart heir Rob Walton

by Paul Gatling ([email protected]) 2,171 views 

The Denver Broncos have confirmed new ownership is on the way, and there are ties to Arkansas.

In a news release late Tuesday night (June 7), the NFL franchise said a purchase and sale agreement is in place to transfer ownership from the Pat Bowlen Trust to a bid submitted by Rob Walton, the oldest son of Walmart founders Sam and Helen Walton.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Denver transformed into one of the NFL’s flagship clubs under the leadership of longtime owner Pat Bowlen, who owned and ran the team beginning in 1984 after a record $70 million acquisition. Denver won three Super Bowls under Bowlen’s ownership but as his health deteriorated, he relinquished control of the team’s operations and, in 2014, placed it into a trust. Bowlen died in 2019.

The bid is reportedly worth $4.65 billion, the most expensive sale of a sports franchise in North American history, according to multiple media reports. The Broncos did not include the price in the team’s official release.

The ownership group includes Walmart chairman Greg Penner and his wife Carrie Walton Penner, Rob Walton’s only child. Mellody Hobson, co-CEO of Ariel Investments, board chair of the Starbucks Corp. and a director at JP Morgan Chase, is also part of the ownership group.

The agreement is subject to approval from the NFL’s finance committee and league ownership. The deal needs approval by at least 24 of the league’s 31 other owners.

“I have enjoyed getting to know Rob Walton, Carrie Walton Penner and Greg Penner throughout this process,” Broncos president and CEO Joe Ellis said in a statement. “Learning more about their background and vision for the Denver Broncos, I am confident that their leadership and support will help this team achieve great things on and off the field.”

Rob Walton, 77, gave the following statement on behalf of the ownership group.

“We are thrilled to be selected to move forward with the purchase of the Denver Broncos! Carrie, Greg and I are inspired by the opportunity to steward this great organization in a vibrant community full of opportunity and passionate fans.

“Having lived and worked in Colorado, we’ve always admired the Broncos. Our enthusiasm has only grown as we’ve learned more about the team, staff and Broncos Country over the last few months.

“We are excited to announce that Mellody Hobson, Co-CEO of Ariel Investments, has agreed to join our ownership group. Beyond her role at Ariel, Mellody is an influential leader in corporate and civic organizations across the nation.

“Mellody currently serves as Chair of the Board of Starbucks Corporation and is also a director of JPMorgan Chase. We know she will bring her strategic acumen and leadership perspective to our team.

“Thank you to Joe Ellis and the staff of the Broncos for the first-class manner in which they have conducted this sale process. In addition, we thank Hogan Lovells for their guidance and support in this effort.

“We look forward to earning the confidence and support of the NFL as we take the next step in this process. When the necessary approval procedures are met, our family is excited to share more with Broncos fans, the organization and the community.”

The global law firm Hogan Lovells represented the Walton-Penner group throughout the transaction.  The deal team was led by partners Matt Eisler, head of the firm’s global sports group, and Russell Hedman, both based in the firm’s Denver office.

From 1992 to 2015, Walton was Walmart’s chairman. Walton had a net worth estimated by Bloomberg to be $62 billion at the end of March 2022, making him the 18th richest person in the world.

Walton has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Arkansas (1966) and a law degree from Columbia University (1969).

Walton’s successful bid would give the Walton family ownership ties to two NFL franchises. Walton’s cousin, Ann Walton Kroenke, is the wife of Los Angeles Rams owner Stan Kroenke. She is the daughter of Walmart co-founder James “Bud” Walton, Sam Walton’s brother.