MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — In the J.W. Marriott connected to the Mall of America, the NFL owners approved the richest purchase of a team in North American sports history.
Rob Walton's $4.65 billion bid for the Denver Broncos passed unanimously Tuesday at 11:36 a.m. Mountain Time, clearing the way for a new era for the franchise. It represents the first transfer in ownership in 38 years, with Walton and his son-in-law Greg Penner and daughter Carrie Penner following in the footsteps of Hall of Famer Pat Bowlen.
"This is the one sports franchise that we would have considered buying. Well Greg started (informal) conversations 10 years ago about it, and then when the team was actually announced for sale we got into the middle of it first thing," Walton said. "We have connections. Greg and Carrie live in Colorado. I have been going to Colorado and have had a home there for a long, long time and we have other family members there. It's a great connection for us. We are really excited about it. It's jutst a terrific team and a terrific fan base. It's a big, big day for us."
Walton becomes the richest owner in the NFL, his $60 billion net worth three times that of any of his new colleagues. Greg Penner is the founder and general partner of Madrone Capital Partners.
The group also includes Mellody Hobson, CEO of Ariel Investments and chairwoman of the Starbucks board, Condoleezza Rice, the former Secretary of State, and Lewis Hamilton, a seven-time Formula One world champion. Hobson and Rice are scheduled to join Walton and the Penners for a 1 p.m. press conference Wednesday at UCHealth Training Center.
"We are committed to making sure the Denver Broncos are the best team to play for, to work for and to cheer for," Carrie Penner said. "We can't wait to get started."
Despite the team's recent dark period — six years without a playoff berth and five consecutive losing seasons — Walton understands he has big shoes to fill. All three provided glowing praise for Bowlen.
"We want to acknowledge Pat Bowlen's outstanding legacy as well as the family and Pat's leadership and commitment to build a successful team and business, and we will continue to build on that," Walton said. "Putting a winning team on the field is our No. 1 priority."
The Penners are expected to run the daily operations. CEO Joe Ellis will remain available for the transition for several months as an adviser, but is expected to depart for a vacation following the Cowboys game on Saturday night at Empower Field at Mile High.
"This is a responsibility and a privilege. The Broncos are an iconic franchise that means a lot to Colorado and the whole Rocky Mountain region." Greg Penner said. "We know our fans' expectations are high, and we embrace that. We want to compete and we want to win."
Walton and the Penners toured the UCHealth Training Center on Monday before traveling to Minnesota for the vote. The protocol called for the Walton-Penner group to speak to the owners on Tuesday, step out while the vote was conducted, then return for the results.
The mechanics of the transfer over, the hard part begins. Los Angeles Rams, Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche owner Stan Kroenke believes in the Walton group. It is family after all.
"I am excited to have them in Denver. I have known them more than five decades. They will do a great job," said Kroenke, who admitted it would not be unusual to consider discussing downtown development with the Broncos owners.
"I think they will be wonderful for the Broncos and the extended community. The Denver Broncos are a unique and historic franchise. What a wonderful opportunity to own. I always encouraged them."
Jerry Jones knew Sam Walton, the patriarch of the Walton family. He is pleased the Walton-Penner group has joined one of sport's most exclusive clubs.
"They will do outstanding. I had the privilege of knowing their dad. I look at least one example of getting Stan Kroenke in the room with us does. That's done nothing but lift the NFL. Just by their presence it will be a great addition," Jones said. "But they will do well. They know how to operate."
Bowlen ceded control of the Broncos' daily operations in 2014 and passed away from Alzheimer's in 2019. He established a three-person trust — they arrived at the meeting to say goodbyes — to identify an owner among his seven children. The succession plan fizzled when the siblings could not agree on one representative.
"I think they are going to be extraordinary owners, and a group that Pat Bowlen would be proud of," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said.
The team went up for sale in January and Walton won the bidding on June 8, besting Josh Harris. Sources said Walton was never going to lose, prepared to go to $5 billion if necessary. It signals his desire to own the franchise and tackle many important issues, including whether to build a new stadium — that question was asked, but Greg Penner called it "premature" to discuss — and begin negotiating a new contract with star quarterback Russell Wilson.
Walton made it clear he is pleased with general manager George Paton, coach Nathaniel Hackett and Wilson, the new face of the franchise.
"We couldn't be happier with both the coach and our general manager. As we looked at this from the early days, we thought we might get here without a coach and a quarterback and a new general manager," Walton said. "Joe Ellis and the trustees and George came up with an outstanding coach in Nathaniel. They will have to perform. But we think we've got the pieces to fit together and have a great season."