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What the Denver Broncos’ Sale Means for Diversity in NFL Ownership

The NFL has long wanted to diversify its ownership ranks, and on Wednesday it took a step in the right direction. But can it last?

Both the NFL and Denver Broncos entered a new era of ownership on Wednesday. The NFL reclaimed its title as the American sports league with the highest-priced team sale ever at a colossal $4.65 billion, and for the Broncos, the Pat Bowlen Trust has found itself new owners in the Walter-Penner group.

The Walter-Penner Group is composed of Walmart heir Rob Walton, his daughter Carrie Walton Penner, her husband Greg Penner, as well as Mellody Hobson, a Black woman who is co-CEO of Ariel Investments. She is also chair of the board of Starbucks and a director at JP Morgan Chase. 

The approval for the sale is expected to take 60 to 90 days, according to ESPN

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The Walter-Penner Group’s inclusion of Hobson is a big deal for the NFL, as the league has not been shy about wanting to make its ownership groups more diverse.

At the end of March, the NFL released a statement saying:

“The NFL member clubs support the important goal of increasing diversity among ownership.  Accordingly, when evaluating a prospective ownership group of a member club pursuant to League policies, the membership will regard it as a positive and meaningful factor if the group includes diverse individuals who would have a significant equity stake in and involvement with the club, including serving as the controlling owner of the club.”

So while the NFL cannot force club owners within its league to bring someone of diverse background into an already existing ownership group, it can try to influence the future. Hobson was not the only Black person seeking to purchase a stake in the Broncos; Lakers-legend-turned-businessman Magic Johnson was part of a prospective ownership group led by Philadelphia 76ers co-owner Josh Harris, per Sportico

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell also publicly encouraged entertainer and CEO Byron Allen to seek a stake, though Allen’s estimated net worth is $450 million, less than 10% of what the Broncos just sold for. 

And in that regard, it should be noted that NFL teams are outrageously expensive. From 2010-19, five NFL teams were sold, and each is now valued at more than $2 billion: 

  • Stan Kroenke bought the St. Louis (now Los Angeles) Rams in 2010 in a deal that valued the team at $750 million. The team is now worth $4.8 billion
  • Jimmy Haslam purchased the Browns in 2012 for $1.05 billion; they are now worth $2.73 billion.
  • Shadid Khan bought the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2012 for $770 million; they are now worth $2.6 billion.
  • Terry and Kim Pegula purchased the Buffalo Bills in 2014 for $1.1 billion; they are now worth $2.5 billion.
  • David Tepper bought the Panthers for $2.27 billion in 2018; they are now worth $2.96 billion.

It is clear that business is booming for the league. The purchase price for the NFL’s last three teams has doubled every time a new franchise is on the market. And with a $100 billion-plus media deal that is set to begin in 2023, there are no signs of slowing down. 

What could slow down, though, is the number of people from diverse backgrounds that have the ability to purchase teams. A price of $4.65 billion already limits how many people that can buy into teams, which makes the pool of diverse owners even smaller. 

When the next NFL team is up for sale, everyone will be watching to see just how much it will sell for — and who will have the funds to become even a modest part of an ownership group that will be looking to make a purchase likely exceeding $5 billion.

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