Another season of NFL football is nearly upon us and for one of the league’s most iconic franchises – the Denver Broncos – it means not only reshaping its roster on the field but also implementing important ownership changes off the field as the Pat Bowlen Trust ends their 38 years of family ownership of the Broncos.
This is a story we have been following since last September. In a recent update, the NFL’s 31 other owners and financial committee approved the sale of the Broncos to the Walton-Penner family after a unanimous decision. The family ownership group will be led by Rob Walton, heir to the Walmart retail fortune.
- Read our original profile of the Bowlen family exploring what went wrong with Pat Bowlen’s succession plan to keep the Broncos in the family.
- We followed this with a more detailed overview of how the family could have avoided this outcome and maintained control of the Broncos.
As for the Walton-Penner family, they have shown interest in buying the Denver Broncos for over a decade. And when news broke of the sale, the family entered into a purchase and sale agreement to acquire the team, winning the bid with a $4.65 billion offer, according to a report in the Washington Post – a record for a North American sports franchise. This also makes Walton the league’s richest owner, with an estimated net worth of $60 billion.
A new era of family ownership
The Walton-Penner family is no stranger to the world of sports franchise ownership. Rob Walton’s cousin, Ann Walton Kroenke is married to Stan Kroenke, who owns several sports teams, including the NFL’s reigning Super Bowl champions, Los Angeles Rams. Kroenke helped to rebuild the Rams after years of disarray within the organization. Challenges such as this (and the one faced by the Bowlens) demonstrates what not to do when running a sports franchise and how it’s important to strategically plan for succession.
As the Walter-Penner family undergoes this transition, a number of things particularly stand out to us:
- The NFL is an “exclusive club” of 32 family-owned enterprises.
- The league has strict protocols governing ownership and succession. It requires one individual or family group to own each team (vs. corporate “monoliths”) AND for these ownership groups to proactively plan for their own succession. In other words, be prepared.
- But even the best of plans can go awry, as the Bowlens and the Broncos discovered.
- It’s a good bet that the NFL is delighted with the new Walton-Penner ownership group in Denver. Not only does it become the wealthiest ownership group in the league (with very deep pockets), but it’s already signaled its succession intentions well ahead of time by announcing Carrie Walton Penner’s role with the group. If all goes to plan, one day her father Rob Walton will pass the mantle to Carrie and her husband, Greg Penner – who was named the team’s CEO.
- The group includes Ariel Investments President and Co-CEO Mellody Hobson, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, as the first two Black women to be a part of an NFL ownership group. And most recently, seven-time Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton has joined.
Moreover, the Walton-Penner family (and ownership group) are in good shape to rebuild the Denver Broncos franchise with a succession plan already in place, a strong leadership team, new quarterback and a new coach – in hopes to achieve more wins on and off the field for decades to come.
Christina Outridge is a Marketing and Communication Specialist at Creaghan McConnell Group.