Here’s why Walmart heir Rob Walton has an edge in the bidding war for the Denver Broncos

Of the five reported bidders trying to buy the Denver Broncos, one stands above the rest, at least in terms of buying power: Rob Walton.

The Broncos’ projected price of around $4 billion (Forbes valued the club at $3.75 billion in August) wouldn’t be hard on Walton, the 77-year-old former Walmart chairman and eldest son of company founder Sam Walton. Forbes estimates that Rob Walton is sitting on a fortune of $70.6 billion, of which about $57 billion is in Walmart stock. Its known opposition – groups led by billionaires Josh Harris (whose value is estimated at $5.6 billion) and, it seems, Todd Boehly ($4.5 billion) – seem to be worth much less. There are two mystery bidders in the fold, according to a report of Sportico, but only 18 other individuals on the planet are richer than Walton, Forbes estimates, and two of them are his siblings, Jim ($71.9 billion) and Alice ($70.9 billion).

This puts Walton in a prime position to join the ranks of NFL ownership. Under league rules, a majority owner must own at least 30% of a team and a franchise’s debt limit cannot exceed $1 billion. The estate of Pat Bowlen, who took control of the Broncos after his death in 2019, has a fiduciary duty to sell to the highest bidder. Harris and Boehly, who are also bidding on the multi-billion dollar sale of Chelsea FC, would need wealthy partners to compete for such an asset. Walton just has to reach into his pockets.

“From a money point of view, I don’t see anyone outbidding [Walton]especially if he really wants to,” says Edwin Draughan, vice chairman of sports investment bank Park Lane.

If successful, Walton would become America’s second-richest sports team owner, behind former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, who is worth an estimated $92.3 billion and is the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers. the NBA. Walton would easily be the richest owner in the NFL — surpassing Dave Tepper of the Carolina Panthers, who is worth an estimated $16.7 billion — at a time when the value of franchises is skyrocketing. The average NFL team was worth nearly $3.5 billion in 2021, up from $466 million in 2001. The Broncos ranked in the bottom third of the league with their appreciation over the past two decades, according to Forbesbut the team still grew by nearly 600%, from $540 million to $3.75 billion.

Growth does not seem to be slowing down either. The NFL signed about $113 billion in new media rights deals last year and has seen steady growth from its burgeoning venture arm, 32 Equity. After investing $1 million at launch in 2013 and around $3 million more since then, each team now owns a share worth over $100 million which includes investments in the e-commerce platform. Fanatics, data company Genius Sports and massage gun maker Hyperice. The NFL and Apple would also be close to agreement for the league’s Sunday Ticket package, which DirecTV previously cleared for $1.5 billion.

“I think it’s pretty obvious that the NFL is king all over the world,” says Andy Appleby, president and CEO of General Sports & Entertainment, a sports management company that handles team acquisitions.

Walton’s motivation for bidding on the Broncos is ultimately unclear, although he has ties to the area. Walton owns several properties in Colorado, and his step-cousin Stan Kroenke owns both the Denver Nuggets of the NBA and the Colorado Avalanche of the NHL. The Walton Family Foundation, which focuses on river and ocean education and conservation, awarded nearly $750 million in grants in 2020, including at least six of more than $1 million in the state from Colorado. A representative for Walton declined to comment.

Buying the Broncos could be a heirloom for his family, or just a passion play for him – something to enjoy now that he’s no longer involved with Walmart. Walton, Sam Walton’s eldest son, earned a law degree from Columbia University and helped prepare for Walmart’s IPO in 1970. He took over as president upon his father’s death in 1992 and retired in 2015, when he was succeeded by his son-in-law, Greg Penner. The family still owns about half of the retail giant, which made $573 billion in revenue in 2021.

The Waltons, who are America’s wealthiest family, have generally avoided the limelight, quietly running Walmart, launching low-key investment companies and running their 16-branch Arvest Bank in Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas and their home state of Arkansas. One of their few public ventures: In 2011, Rob’s sister Alice opened the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in their hometown of Bentonville, featuring works by Andy Warhol, Norman Rockwell and Mark Rothko.

“There aren’t many people on earth who have $4 billion to spend on a sports team,” Appleby says. Walton, however, is wealthy enough to be able to buy over half of the NFL teams and still be a multi-billionaire.

Laura J. Boyer