The Denver Broncos’ sale set a new global sports record at $4.65 billion. When (not if) the Seahawks change hands, that incredible number could still feel small by comparison.
NFL team sales are incredibly rare. Prior to Tuesday’s Denver Broncos sale to a group led by Walmart heir Rob Walton and family members Carrie Walton Penner and Greg Penner for a reported $4.65 billion after a prolonged search, the time a controlling stake changed hands in the world’s most valuable sports league was David Tepper’s $2.275 billion purchase of the Carolina Panthers in 2018. Since 2012, only three other teams have changed hands: the Buffalo Bills in 2014 and both the Cleveland Browns and Jacksonville Jaguars in 2012.
But we may not have to wait all that long for the next blockbuster NFL sale.
The estate of late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen still owns the Seattle Seahawks following his passing in 2018, but it’s widely understood that the family trust doesn’t plan to hold onto the team indefinitely. There was fuel added to that proverbial fire last week when an offer for the Allen estate’s other major sports holding, the Portland Trail Blazers, arrived from a group led by Nike founder Phil Knight that reportedly topped $2 billion.
The Blazers confirmed their receipt of the offer, but said the team isn’t for sale — at least not today.
The line of interested Blazers buyers is certain to get longer and longer. In due time, expect the same to be true for the Seahawks. And that got us thinking about just how massive (and presumably record-setting) its price tag will ultimately be.
Forbes valued the Trail Blazers at $2.05 billion back in October, pretty close to what Knight offered — and an insane ROI on the $70 million Allen bought the team for in 1988. He picked up the Seahawks nine years later for $194 million. But how much should we expect the team to fetch on the open market if the team sold in 2022?
Consider a few basic data points:
- Last summer, Forbes valued the Broncos at $3.65 billion, a 17% year-over-year increase. They were sold for exactly $1 billion more roughly 10 months after the most recent valuation, which would be a 27.4% increase from that $3.65 billion mark from a year ago.
- In 2017, the Panthers were valued by Forbes at $2.3 billion less than a year before David Tepper purchased the team for $2.275 billion in 2018. That could be a discounted price possibly based on the circumstances surrounding previous owner Jerry Richardson, who sold the club after allegations of sexual and racial workplace misconduct were levied against him.
- Terry and Kim Pegula bought the Buffalo Bills for $1.4 billion in 2014 less than a month after the team was valued at $935 million.
The Seahawks were valued at $3.5 billion last year, a 14% year-over-year increase. The average NFL team value in that 2021 Forbes piece went up 14% from the previous year. If we add on another 14%, the team’s current valuation would be approximately $4.16 billion. However, that estimate is almost certain to be conservative as it relates to an eventual real, live offer.
Let’s consider the $4.65 billion Walton paid for the Broncos to be the floor for any Seahawks sale even if a formal bid process started today. Given that the team is unlikely to change hands in less than a year or two, you could be looking at the first sports team on earth ever to fetch $5 billion.
Buying an NFL team, while ludicrously expensive, has proven to be one of the safest investments a human being can possibly make. Late Broncos owner Pat Bowlen paid $71 million for the Broncos in 1984 — $197.5 million in today’s money — and his trust just sold the team for what is essentially a $4.45 billion profit. Over 38 years, that’s an average appreciation of more than $117 million per year just for owning an NFL franchise.
If and when the Seahawks are sold, expect a purchase price that requires a spirited double-take. Given the market size, passionate fan base, and modern run of success Seattle boasts, the Paul Allen Trust has every right to consider itself on the clock as soon as it could possibly desire.
Even COVID couldn’t stop the NFL valuation train from screaming down the tracks. And when the effects of the league’s new $100+ billion television and streaming rights deal begin to be felt in earnest, $4 billion and change may increasingly feel like a steal of a sticker price.