Considering the potential price for the team, the list of legitimate bidders had been reduced to about half a dozen. Robert Smith, who grew up in Denver and is considered one of the richest blacks in the country, was considered a contender, but his proposal never came to fruition.
Other bidders included Josh Harris, who already owns stakes in the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers and NHL Devils.
Some reports link former Broncos quarterbacks John Elway and Peyton Manning to different contenders, but they apparently had small financial stakes. Under league rules, a new owner can only borrow up to $1 billion to fund the purchase, a restriction that has eliminated many parties.
This restriction is unlikely to interfere with Rob Walton, Greg Penner and their families. Walton, 77, is the eldest child of Helen and Sam Walton, co-founder of Walmart. Rob Walton was chairman of Walmart from 1992 to 2015. His cousin is Ann Walton, Sam Walton’s niece and wife of E. Stanley Kroenke, who owns the Los Angeles Rams in the NFL, the Denver Nuggets in the NBA, and Colorado. Avalanche NHL and Arsenal in the Premier League, among other teams.
Penner married Rob Walton’s daughter, Carrie, and has been chairman of Walmart since 2015.
The Walton-Penner proposal, if approved, would end nearly four decades of Bowlen family ownership. The Broncos joined the AFL in 1960 and had a depressing first decade and a half on the field, though they were popular with fans in the Rocky Mountain states. But since Bowlen bought the club in 1984, the Broncos have had 21 winning seasons, 13 division titles, nine conference championship berths and seven Super Bowl appearances.
His memory is failing, Bowlen. stepped down from team management in 2014, and left several trustees, including Ellis, to oversee the franchise. The trustees were tasked with deciding which of his children should become the majority owner or whether to sell the franchise if they felt it was in the family’s best interests.