The Denver Broncos, of American football’s NFL, have confirmed a sale agreement has been reached with the Walton-Penner family ownership group.
The deal is understood to be worth $4.65 billion, a record fee for a sports team.
The Walton-Penner group is led by billionaire Rob Walton, the heir to the Walmart corporation, along with his daughter Carrie Walton Penner and her husband Greg Penner.
Mellody Hobson, co-chief executive of Chicago-based investment firm Ariel Investments, is also part of the group.
Hobson serves as chair of the board of major coffee chain Starbucks and a director at US banking giant JP Morgan Chase.
The Walton-Penner group will acquire the team from the Pat Bowlen Trust. The agreement is subject to approval from the NFL's finance committee and by a full vote of NFL owners.
It is expected to take 60 to 90 days for the sale to be approved and the deal to be closed, but this is viewed as a formality.
Allen & Co, a New York-based financial advisory firm, regulated and conducted the franchise’s sale on behalf of the trust set up by the Broncos’ previous owners.
Walton said: "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. We look forward to earning the confidence and support of the NFL as we take the next step in this process."
Joe Ellis, Broncos president and chief executive, added: "I have enjoyed getting to know Rob, Carrie, and Greg throughout this process. 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.
"Today marks a significant step on the path to an exciting new chapter in Broncos history."
The Walton-Penner group was one of four that had advanced to the second round of bidding earlier this week.
The consortiums led by Josh Harris of Apollo Global Management (who already has a stake in Premier League soccer side Crystal Palace), and private equity group Clearlake Capital and Todd Boehly, who recently teamed up to buy Chelsea, were also in the running.
Walton emerged as the frontrunner in the crowded field of contenders due to his mass family fortune.
Forbes estimates that the 77-year-old former Walmart chairman has a net worth of around $59 billion.
The $4.65-billion figure surpasses the $3.3-billion sale of the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets to Alibaba co-founder Joe Tsai in 2019 and David Tepper’s purchase of the NFL’s Carolina Panthers for $2.3 billion in 2018.
Pat Bowlen, who died in 2019, bought the Broncos in 1984. His seven children had owned roughly 11% each, with Bowlen’s brother, John, holding the remaining shares.
The Colorado-based franchise did not qualify for the 2021-22 NFL Playoffs, finishing with a 7-10 record overall.
The team won three Super Bowls in the Bowlen era, most recently in 2015.
Commenting on the Broncos sale, Conrad Wiacek, head of sport analysis at GlobalData, said: “The growth in value of NFL franchises in just a few years speaks to the increased value being delivered by the NFL as a whole.
“While the Panthers were sold to David Tepper back in 2018 for over $2.2 billion, the NFL has subsequently signed a new decade-long, $100-billion rights deal in the US, making the prospect of owning an NFL team even more attractive.
“Coupled with the fact the NFL has been fairly resilient in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, with viewing figures remaining high as evidenced by the Super Bowl in February, the rumored price tag of $4.65 billion for one of the more storied franchises in the NFL should be no surprise.”