(CBS4) – Billionaire Robson Walton appears to be the winning bidder for ownership of the Denver Broncos franchise, according to a report in Forbes. Several "sports bankers" told the financial publication that the 77-year-old Walmart heir's bid for the team is at about $4.5 billion, and that the announcement is expected to be announced this month.
That would be the most expensive sports team sale in history.
Last month, NFL owners and top executives met in Atlanta for the annual spring league meeting, and the NFL franchise, aided by Allen & Co. and Proskauer Rose LLP, remained deep in the process of finding a new owner. Broncos president and CEO Joe Ellis was at the meeting representing the team. The update outlined where the Pat Bowlen Trust and franchise stands, as well as where they are in the process of finding people to buy the team.
CBS4 did try speaking directly to Ellis, as well as several other NFL owners, but all declined to speak with us about the sale.
On Monday, a source told CBS4 it may be too early to call Walton the winner, since the Forbes report came out hours before the bidding deadline, and there were several serious candidates expected to still be in the running. Still, Walton has long been one of the favorites to get the team, due to his wealth.
In addition to the bid from Walton, private equity investor and Philadelphia 76ers owner Josh Harris and LA Dodgers co-owner Todd Boehly were also likely bidders, according to Sportico's reporting. In his press conference following the meeting, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said the Broncos have also seen interest from several minority candidates.
"We passed a resolution with the point and principal that we wanted anyone bidding on a franchise to consider minority ownership," Goodell said. "The good news is, in the Broncos case, we had several, and that was a very positive development. We'll see how it ends up, but I think we've made it very clear that's something we intend to do and want to have happen."
Joe Ellis has said the No. 1 decision facing a new owner would be surrounding the future of the stadium. When asked by CBS4 if any bids for the team plan to address that, Goodell declined to answer with specifics.
"We're not going to get into any specifics of where the bids are or any of the specific elements of those bids, but I would say, and I made this point today that the cooperation, the communication has been very good between the Broncos and our staff, as well as the representatives of the Broncos," Goodell said. "It's moving forward, and when they get to a completion, we'll know that, and then we'll start our process."
All along, the Broncos have said they will have a new owner by the start of the NFL season.
An expert who has been part of other team sales said the Pat Bowlen Trust could continue negotiations and set another bidding deadline if some bids are reasonably close. If not, and there's a clear winning bid, the trust, and prospective ownership group could move forward with the next steps, which could take anywhere from one to three months before the sale is final.
Once that candidate is picked, they'll continue negotiations with the Trust and then complete and execute a Purchase and Sale Agreement. After that, the NFL's finance committee will have to approve the finalist and then the 31 other current NFL owners will take a final vote. Three-fourths of those owners must approve the team's purchase.
Walton is the oldest son of the late Walmart founder Sam Walton. He took over as chairman of the company upon his father's death in 1992 and retired from the role in 2015. Forbes reported that his ownership team includes his daughter Carrie and her husband Greg Penner.
Stan Kroenke, the owner of several sports franchises including the Denver Nuggets, Colorado Avalanche and Colorado Rapids, is married to Walton's cousin.
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