(Bloomberg) — Rob Walton, son of Walmart Inc. founder Sam Walton, is close to clinching the winning bid for the NFL’s Denver Broncos, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.
Walton’s offer exceeds $4 billion, which would be the highest amount ever paid for a US professional sports team. It would surpass the $3.3 billion sale of the Brooklyn Nets to Alibaba Group Holding Inc. co-founder Joe Tsai in 2019 and David Tepper’s purchase of the Carolina Panthers for $2.3 billion in 2018.
Walton, 77, emerged as an early front-runner in a crowded field of contenders vying for the first National Football League team up for sale in four years. The Broncos’ longtime family owners, the Bowlens, announced in February they were selling the franchise and billionaires quickly began to circle. Josh Harris, co-founder of Apollo Global Management Inc., entered the bidding, as did mortgage billionaire Mat Ishbia and Clearlake Capital Group co-founder Jose Feliciano.
Still, the auction is ongoing and there could be additional bidding. Harris, who has stakes in the New Jersey Devils hockey team and the Philadelphia 76ers, is still pursuing the purchase, according to another person familiar with the process.
Walton’s bid stood out, given the sheer amount of money at his disposal, said the first person, who asked not to be identified because the proceedings are private. The former Walmart chairman is the 17th-richest person in the world with a net worth of $59.2 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
Forbes reported Walton’s front-runner status earlier Monday.
The Broncos would be among the first significant outside investments for Walton, whose fortune is still largely tied to a stake in the world’s biggest retailer. The Walton family, including Rob’s sister Alice and brother Jim, own just under half of the company.
The family still has roots in Bentonville, Arkansas, where Walmart is headquartered, but Rob and members of his immediate family own properties in Colorado and have spent significant time there in recent years.
Rob, who played football as an undergraduate at the College of Wooster in Ohio, recently sold an undeveloped plot of land in Aspen for $30.8 million. Rob’s son Ben and his wife Lucy Ana founded their family office, ZomaLab, in Denver.
Greg Penner, the husband of Rob’s daughter Carrie, took over as chairman of Walmart’s board after Rob stepped down in 2015. The couple are expected to form part of the Broncos’ ownership team.
The Broncos would be the second big-ticket sports franchise to change hands in recent months.
UK soccer team Chelsea FC was sold to American investor Todd Boehly with backing from California-based private equity firm Clearlake Capital for £4.25 billion ($5.3 billion) last month.
–With assistance from Heather Perlberg.
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