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NFL owners unanimously approve $4.65 billion sale of Denver Broncos to Walton-Penner group

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BLOOMINGTON, Minn. -- In less than an hour Tuesday in the third-floor ballroom of an airport hotel, Rob Walton and his group of investors that includes his daughter Carrie Walton-Penner and son-in-law Greg Penner were officially approved as the new owners of the Denver Broncos.

And one of the league's most successful franchises now has the NFL's deepest pockets.

"We are just so excited ... a big, big day for us [and] putting a winning team on the field is our No. 1 priority," Walton said.

NFL team owners, with commissioner Roger Goodell presiding over the specially called meeting, took less than 45 minutes to thank outgoing team CEO Joe Ellis, reminisce about Pat Bowlen's Hall of Fame run as the team's owner for more than three decades and unanimously approve the Walton-Penner group as the team's new owners.

"We're very excited ... this is a group that is going to be great in the Denver community,'' Goodell said.

"It's an incredible day for our family,'' Carrie Walton-Penner said. " ... We are committed to make sure the Denver Broncos are the best team to play for, to work for and to cheer for.''

In June, the group, which also includes co-CEO of Ariel Investments Mellody Hobson, agreed to purchase the Broncos for $4.65 billion, a record price paid for a North American sports franchise. The league's finance committee unanimously recommended in late July the sale to be approved.

Forbes estimates Walton, a Walmart heir, to have a net worth of nearly $60 billion.

The group has added former United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as well as seven-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton to its ranks in recent weeks.

During a news conference to introduce the new ownership group Wednesday, Rice called her involvement an "amazing opportunity.''

"The football team like the Broncos can be a source of community, a source of common purpose, a source of common pride,'' Rice, who lived in Denver in her youth, said. "I very much look forward being a part of it.''

The Walton-Penner group was, according to multiple sources, one of four groups that had advanced to the second round of bidding for the team in early June. The Broncos have been one of the NFL's most successful franchises in the Super Bowl era, with three Super Bowl wins in Bowlen's ownership tenure to go with seven of the franchise's eight Super Bowl appearances.

"The Broncos are the one sport franchise we would have considered buying,'' Walton said. " ... We got in the middle of [the bidding] first thing ... Terrific team, terrific fan base.''

Said Penner: "It's an iconic franchise."

It is expected Penner and Walton-Penner, who Walton said live in Colorado, will have prominent roles in the day-to-day operations of the team. Ellis, who officially announced Tuesday he has stepped down after 27 years with the team, will serve as an adviser to the new ownership group during the 2022 season, Walton said.

Walton, Penner and Walton-Penner all expressed confidence Tuesday in the team's current football structure, including general manager George Paton and coach Nathaniel Hackett.

"We couldn't be happier with both the coach and our general manager,'' Walton said. " ... Joe Ellis and the trustees and George came up with an outstanding coach ... We think we've got the pieces to really fit together and have a great season.''

Tuesday's vote by the NFL owners officially ended an eight-year odyssey since Bowlen stepped away from the day-to-day operations of the team he had owned for 30 years in July 2014 due to the onset of Alzheimer's disease. Bowlen died in 2019.

Bowlen never formally declared a successor among his children, and when he stepped away from the team's day-to-day operations, he had his interest in the team (estimated to be about 78% at the time) placed in a trust overseen by Ellis, Broncos counsel Rich Slivka and Denver attorney Mary Kelly.

What followed included a lawsuit among family members, harsh words and court dates that coincided with a current six-year streak of playoff misses. The team's Super Bowl 50 win to close out the 2015 season was the last postseason game the Broncos played.

The sale agreement with the Walton-Penner group also means Walton and Stan Kroenke, Walton's cousin by marriage, will own five of the six major professional sports franchises in Colorado. Kroenke owns the Denver Nuggets, Colorado Avalanche, Colorado Rapids and Colorado Mammoth lacrosse team, in addition to a regional media company in the state.

"Working together as a family is going to be great,'' Walton said of working with his daughter and son-in-law. "Mostly we are honored to steward this historic franchise.''