The quest for a successor to the late Pat Bowlen as Broncos owner is clarified today.
The Broncos’ future ownership competition has been reduced to two finalists, and one of the prospective purchasers is spending Thursday at the team's headquarters.
According to multiple NFL and Denver sources, The Denver Gazette and The Gazette in Colorado Springs learned exclusively that the pair of front-running candidates to become the Broncos’ owners are Rob Walton, and family and minority partners, and a group headed by Josh Harris.
Harris, advisors and others toured the Broncos’ complex at Dove Valley Thursday and met with retiring CEO Joe Ellis and other top officials of the franchise.
Walton and his associates, sources said, are scheduled to visit the Broncos’ complex next week.
A Broncos source denied that there are two finalists. Two other sources “familiar with the Broncos’’ (as one requested) said the belief by other sources that two finalists have been established is wrong, and the three additional candidates beyond Walton and Harris are scheduled to visit Dove Valley over the next two weeks.
The ultimate bid for the Broncos will exceed $4 billon, and as much as $4.5 billion or more at auction, and become the record price paid for a professional sports franchise in the world.
The 77-year-old Walton, a Walmart heir worth approximately $65 billion, was chairman of the company from 1992-2015, and he was succeeded by his son-in-law Greg Penner, who is 52 and would be involved in the Broncos’ ownership along with others. Walton is a cousin, through marriage, of Stan Kroenke, whose family owns the Nuggets, the Avalanche, the Rapids, the Mammoth, the Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams and Arsenal of the English Premier League.
The NFL has demanded the new ownership include minority shareholders who are minorities.
Harris, who is 57, was the co-founder of Apollo Global Management, one of the country's most successful investment firms. With his personal worth valued at a reported $8 billion, Harris is the principal owner of the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers and managing partner of the NHL’s New Jersey Devils (who formerly were the NHL’s Colorado Rockies). Harris has at least two major partners and has been joined by basketball great Earvin “Magic’’ Johnson (a Dodgers’ partner) in the effort to buy the Broncos’ franchise.
Because of the details involved in such a monumental transaction, the owner of the Broncos won’t be officially in place until late summer and perhaps just before the regular season starts.
Sources said that Walton is the favorite because (A) he can outbid Harris and associates (B) he has such a close connection to Kroenke, (C) he owns a home in Aspen (in addition to his three-home compound in Scottsdale, Ariz., (D) he has a son and family in Boulder (E) and he likely would build a new stadium in Denver to rival Kroenke’s in Los Angeles.
Harris has put together an extremely impressive group who have purchased other sports and entertainment enterprises with him and will include wide-ranging partners.
Separately, both Peyton Manning and John Elway are seriously interested in being included with the winning bidder.
Three other groups have competed in the bidding process.