ENGLEWOOD, Colo — Get ready, Broncos Country.
It won’t be long before the team learns the identity of its new owner.
9NEWS has learned from a source familiar with the team’s sale process that the all-important deadline for investment groups to submit their second-round bids is Monday, June 6.
Four names have emerged as lead partners of those four groups, according to a source: Rob Walton, Josh Harris, Mat Ishbia and Jose E. Feliciano.
That means the Broncos could learn of their new owner (pending NFL approval) in the next month – although if the bidding auction gets wild and crazy and complicated, it could take a few weeks longer.
The bidding is expected to start somewhere around $4 billion, and the auction process could push the final purchase price to near $5 billion.
9NEWS has also learned the bidding is pretty much down to four groups, listed here in order of their visits to Broncos headquarters and stadium:
1. Josh Harris Group
Harris, 57, is the owner -- by way of Harris (David) Blitzer Sports & Entertainment -- of the NBA Philadelphia 76ers and NHL New Jersey Devils, and holds 5% of the NFL Pittsburgh Steelers. His investment partners include Fanatics sports merchandise owner Michael Rubin and former NBA star turned shrewd investor Magic Johnson. Tad Brown, CEO of the Harris Blitzer group, is also involved in an executive role in the Broncos’ bid. Blitzer, however, is not part of the Harris group to buy the Broncos as Blitzer recently stepped up his minority stake in baseball’s Cleveland Guardians.
The Harris group, sans Magic, visited the Broncos facilities on May 5-6. Magic Johnson said he invested $50 million in the Mark Walter-Todd Boehly group that bought baseball’s Los Angeles Dodgers for $2.15 billion in 2012. It’s interesting that Johnson left his partners Walter and Boehly in the Broncos’ bidding process for the Harris group. Johnson’s pledged commitment in the Broncos’ bid is greater than his $50 million Dodger stake, according to sources.
2. Rob Walton-Greg Penner
This group is the assumed leader because it has the greatest net worth. Rob Walton is 77, the oldest son of the late Sam Walton, who founded the Walmart discount store franchise. Rob Walton’s estimated net worth is reportedly $70 billion, although that was before Walmart took a significant first-quarter earnings hit this year. Still, 10% to 20% down from $70 billion is a bunch of billions. But will Rob Walton chase if the Broncos’ auction bidding gets crazy next week?
Rob Walton was Walmart’s chairman from 1992, when his father passed away from cancer, until 2015, when he handed over the role to his son-in-law Penner. Walton and Penner visited Broncos headquarters May 9. If this bid is successful, it is believed Penner would be in charge of day-to-day operations.
3. Jose E. Feliciano Group
Initially reported as the Todd Boehly Group, but a source clarified to 9NEWS that Feliciano, who was born and raised in Puerto Rico, would be the controlling owner if this consortium’s bid on the Broncos is successful. Feliciano and his co-partner, Iranian-born Behdad Eghbali, co-own Clearlake Capital, a private equity firm based in Santa Monica, California. It was Clearlake Capital that largely funded Boehly’s purchase of the Chelsea soccer club in London for $5.31 billion (U.S. dollars). Walter is also part of the new Chelsea ownership group.
While Boehly was in London finalizing the purchase for Chelsea, Feliciano and Eghbali visited the Broncos’ facilities on May 11-12.
Feliciano and Eghbali reportedly are each worth $3.4 billion, although their private equity firm reportedly handles $43 billion. While Clearlake Capital was permitted to fund the Chelsea purchase, the NFL does not allow for private equity money. The Broncos bid is a personal investment for Feliciano and Eghbali.
It would be stunning and unprecedented if Boehly-Feliciano-Eghbali-Walter bought the Chelsea soccer team for $4.25 billion (United Kingdom currency) and roughly 30 days later Feliciano-Eghbali-Boehly-Walter bought the Broncos for between $4 billion and $5 billion. But the group has a chance.
4. Mat Ishbia Group
This isn't the first time Ishbia made the Final Four. He made it three times in his four years as a backup point guard for Michigan State from 1998-2002. Ishbia made his billions through Michigan-based United Wholesale Mortgage. According to Yahoo Finance, Mat Ishbia’s net worth is about $11 billion. He and his brother Justin visited the Broncos’ facilities on May 19-20.
Mat's time with coach Tom Izzo at Michigan State included the 1999-2000 national championship team. His older brother Justin owns 22% of United Wholesale Mortgage and is also founder and managing partner of Shore Capital Partners, a private equity firm in which Mat is also a partner. Justin Ishbia’s net value is reportedly $1.4 billion.
A fifth group is led by media and entertainment mogul Byron Allen. But with less than a week remaining to the Broncos’ second-round bidding deadline, Allen is considered a long shot, so much so that he has not yet been brought in for a visit of Broncos’ facilities.
The Broncos and the three trustees of the Patrick D. Bowlen Trust – Joe Ellis, Rich Slivka and Mary Kelly -- announced Feb. 1 that the team was up for sale. Because the Broncos’ sale is through a trust, it has fiduciary responsibilities to the trust’s beneficiaries to get the highest price – with the caveat that the highest bidder must also receive 75% approval from NFL owners, or 24 of the 32 owners.
A source told 9NEWS earlier this month the Broncos’ bidding process started with 10 investment groups that submitted first-round proposals, after which the field was narrowed to five groups. It’s now on to the second round -- or the Final Four of Broncos’ ownership bids. The Broncos, and Pat Bowlen's beneficiaries, could be in for some June Madness.
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