With new ownership come excitement and high expectations for the Denver Broncos
Sports-management experts weigh in on the pending $4.65 billion sale of city’s longest-tenured team.
Sound the alarm, cue the orange smoke and turn up the volume on “Rocky Mountain High” — the stage is set for a new era of Broncos football.
The storied NFL franchise is on the cusp of new ownership that promises to bring excitement, economic development and Mile High expectations to Denver.
“It’s an exciting moment for the city and the Broncos,” said Jim Saccomano, the team’s former longtime vice president of public relations/corporate communications and a Metropolitan State University of Denver graduate. “It provides stability. The family coming in has a history in Colorado, of loving Colorado and that’s important.”
The Walton-Penner Family Ownership Group entered a purchase agreement with the team on Tuesday at a record-high $4.65 billion, the most-ever paid for a sports franchise. The group is led by Walmart heir Rob Walton, who will be majority owner, along with his daughter Carrie Walton Penner and son-in-law Greg Penner.
Walton is also a cousin by marriage to Stan Kroenke of Kroenke Sports & Entertainment, which owns the Denver Nuggets, Colorado Avalanche, Colorado Mammoth, Colorado Rapids and Ball Arena, among other sports teams and venues outside of Denver.
“Though recently, the Broncos had about five or six substandard years, I think that everybody feels that it’s going to be a new era,” Saccomano said. “It’s a very exciting time, and it fits in very well with the city of Denver. The Nuggets have a two-time consecutive Most Valuable Player, and the Avalanches are in the Stanley Cup Finals. It’s a very exciting time in Denver, and I think the sale reflects that.”
The Broncos ownership has been in limbo since former owner Pat Bowlen was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2009 and fully relinquished control to the Pat Bowlen Trust in 2014, before dying in 2019. The Bowlen family then announced in January that the team would finally be up for sale after constant back and forth between Bowlen’s seven children.
Despite the ownership uncertainty, the Broncos organization was still able to pull off a trade of a lifetime, leaving Coloradans less bruised about the outcome of Super Bowl XLVIII — a game in which the Seattle Seahawks defeated Denver in 2014.
Earlier this year, the Broncos acquired star Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson, giving Broncos fans something to cheer about after five consecutive losing seasons since winning Super Bowl 50.
“Denver is a unique city,” said Kelly Evans, Ph.D., an assistant professor of Sports Management at MSU Denver. “If you can integrate yourself like Russell Wilson has, it really increases the excitement around the team and what they can do. I think both of these things are positive and can increase not only fandom, but our community as well.”
Evans also believes that Walton’s fortune isn’t just going to help the Broncos be competitive, it’s also going to make a difference in the city of Denver with increased revenue by redeveloping the stadium area, just as the Rockies owners have done around Coors Field and Kroenke hopes to do around Ball arena.
“To final get an owner who is worth that much money just means that he has the cash to really make big, bold, fast decisions, which I think is going to be great for Denver,” Evans said. “There had been some talk about redevelopment of the stadium and redevelopment around the stadium, and I think we’re really going to see that area grow. He has the cash that he can infuse into making the Broncos (stadium) a place to be, whether they’re winning or losing.”
Some believe that the Broncos might be looking for a new stadium, but Evans believes that Empower Field at Mile High is worth saving and that there’s a fine line between having the biggest and best and creating nostalgia around the stadium that already exists. If Walton were to build the Broncos a new stadium, it might also lose its prime location near downtown Denver.
MSU Denver Senior Marketing Lecturer Darrin Duber-Smith says there’s an upside should Walton decide to tear down the 21-year-old stadium and rebuild elsewhere: Colorado taxpayers would be off the hook for paying for a new venue due to Walton’s almost $58 billion net worth. Walton’s wealth could also change the way he manages the team compared to a committee of millionaires, Duber-Smith said.
“Committees are terrible at running things,” he said. “Millionaires are going to want a return on investment. Billionaires care about winning, trophies and statues in front of the stadium.”