Given the potential price for the team, the list of legitimate bidders dwindled to around a half dozen. Robert Smith, who grew up in Denver and is considered one of the wealthiest Black people in the country, was considered a contender but his bid never materialized.
Other bidders included Josh Harris, who already owns stakes in the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers and the NHL’s Devils.
Some reports have linked the former Broncos quarterbacks John Elway and Peyton Manning to different bidders, but they would presumably hold small financial stakes. Under league rules, the new owner can only borrow up to $1 billion to finance the purchase, a limitation that eliminated many parties.
That restriction is unlikely to limit Rob Walton, Greg Penner and their families. Walton, 77, is the oldest child of Helen and Sam Walton, the co-founder of Walmart. Rob Walton was chairman of Walmart from 1992 to 2015. His cousin is Ann Walton, the niece of Sam Walton and the wife of E. Stanley Kroenke, who owns the Los Angeles Rams of the NFL, the Denver Nuggets of the NBA, the Colorado Avalanche of the NHL and Arsenal FC in the Premier League, among other teams.
Penner married Rob Walton’s daughter, Carrie, and has been Walmart’s chairman since 2015.
The Walton-Penner bid, if approved, would end nearly four decades of ownership by the Bowlen family. The Broncos joined the AFL in 1960 and were dismal on the field for their first decade and a half, though they were popular with fans in the Rocky Mountain states. But after Bowlen bought the club in 1984, the Broncos had 21 winning seasons, 13 division titles, nine conference championship berths and seven Super Bowl appearances.
His memory failing, Bowlen stepped away from running the team 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 controlling owner—or whether the franchise should be sold, if they believed that was in the family’s best interest.
Beth Bowlen, Bowlen’s second daughter from his first marriage, worked at the club and was interested in becoming the principal owner. But she left the team several years ago.