The recent sale of the Denver Broncos is unique for several reasons. This is a record $4.65 billion transaction. The former record sale was for the New York Mets in 2020 priced at $2.4 billion. The National Football League unanimously approved the sale, welcoming the new owners to an exclusive club. Walmart heir Rob Walton, his daughter, Carrie Walton Penner, and her husband, Greg Penner, are the new majority owners.
The 77-year-old Walton’s estimated worth is $60 billion, making him the richest owner in the NFL. The Walton-Penner Group has paid the highest price in history for an American sports franchise. The record sale price for any sports franchise is $5.3 billion for Chelsea Football Club, also this year. The three limited partners of the new ownership group are also a first because all three investors are black. They are Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton, Starbucks board chairwoman Mellody Hobson and former US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice. The overall roster has three women, making Broncos ownership the most diverse roster in the NFL.
Former owner Pat Bowlen paid $78 million for the team in 1984. John Elway missed out on some of that profit when he opted out of an offer from Bowlen to become a minority owner during his playing days. in 1998. Bowlen offered Elway a 10% piece of the team for the money the team owed him ($21 million). Bowlen sweetened the deal by offering an additional 10% of the team for $15 million. If Elway had accepted both offers, the recent sale would now be worth over $900 million, a return of 1,330%.
Elway also waived the right of first refusal to buy out the rest of the team. Shed no tears for Elway as he earned $45.4 million during his playing career and then became general manager of the Broncos winning the Super Bowl 50. He also sold his car dealerships in 1997 for 82, $5 million in stock.
Those of us who follow the sport have often wondered how lucrative property really is. We’re somewhat kept in the dark because NFL owners don’t have to reveal their finances, with one exception. The Green Bay Packers are the NFL’s only public franchise and must release annual financial figures. This is the only team whose fans can buy a stake. The Packers have 539,000 shareholders. About 8,000 people attended the team’s annual meeting this year, a cross between conscientious team accounting, a pep rally and an inside joke. Each share, non-negotiable and paying no dividend, is worth $300. At this year’s meeting, Mark Murphy, the team’s president, announced that $65 million had been raised in a stock sale this winter.
So the Packers can give us some insight into the benefits of NFL ownership. This year, the picture is bright. The Packers generated record revenue of $579 million last year. Not bad for a “small market” team. Nearly 60% of that revenue ($347.3 million) came from the Packers’ share of the league’s growing media and sponsorship deals, which are split among the 32 teams. Shared revenue increased by 12.3% last year and now ensures that each team is guaranteed to make a profit regardless of performance on the pitch, as its biggest expense – player payrolls – was capped at $188 million.
The future is continually bright as a 17th regular season game has been added, new sports betting revenue is pouring in, and the broadcast rights renewal in 2021 is worth over $100 billion. This seems like a business venture not to be missed. They don’t even need the ticket price profits. They should let us in for free.
Jim Cross is a retired Fort Lewis College teacher and basketball coach.