ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos are officially up for sale and will likely have the biggest price tag in North American sports history.
The sale was announced Tuesday by the Pat Bowlen Trust, which has operated the team since Bowlen stepped away from day-to-day operations of the team in 2014 due to the early onset of Alzheimer's disease. The team is valued at just under $4 billion.
Steve Cohen paid $2.4 billion in 2020 for the New York Mets, the highest price paid for a North American sports franchise.
The last NFL franchise to be sold was the Carolina Panthers, who were purchased in 2018 by David Tepper for $2.275 billion.
In a statement, Broncos CEO Joe Ellis said: "The Pat Bowlen Trust announced today the beginning of a sale process for the Denver Broncos. We have retained Steve Greenberg of Allen & Company as our financial advisor and Joe Leccese of Proskauer Rose LLP as our legal advisor for this transition of ownership.
"Selling an NFL team is a complex process involving numerous parties and league approval procedures. Nonetheless, the trustees hope to have the sale completed by the start of the 2022 NFL season.
"The Broncos are a special franchise that is part of the fabric of this region, and whoever emerges as the new owner will certainly understand what the team means to our great fans and this community."
The Bowlen family also released a lengthy statement that said in part: "When Pat Bowlen purchased the Denver Broncos in 1984 with the help of his siblings -- John, Bill and Marybeth -- he set out with the goal of being No. 1 in everything. Over the past 38 seasons, his vision enabled the Broncos to become champions on and off the field. With today beginning the Broncos' transition to new ownership, our family is overwhelmed with gratitude for what this organization and community have meant to us. There are truly no words to express our deep appreciation to all of Broncos Country for its unwavering support during the past four decades.''
The sale became almost a foregone conclusion earlier this month when a Denver judge ruled the heirs of former Broncos owner Edgar Kaiser Jr. couldn't buy back any portion of the franchise as part of a right of first refusal agreement.
A holdings group representing Kaiser's estate had petitioned the court that it had right of refusal for any sale of the franchise dating back to when Kaiser sold the team to Pat Bowlen in 1984. Kaiser died in 2012, and Bowlen died in 2019.
Denver district judge Shelley L. Gilman ruled Kaiser's heirs had no claim and the right of first refusal included in the 1984 sales agreement between Kaiser and Bowlen was "no longer valid or enforceable in any respect.''
Ellis, one of three trustees overseeing the operations of the team, had repeatedly said over the past seven years if Bowlen's children could not agree on a majority owner, the team would likely be sold. That agreement between the siblings was never reached -- a lawsuit between them was poised to go to trial before it was dismissed last July.
"Pat used to say the Broncos belonged to the fans and that ultimately this was their team," the Bowlen family said in a statement. "From the bottom of our hearts, thank you for this incredible ride. It has been the honor of our lifetime. All of us know that the impact of 'Mr. B' will live on with the Broncos and in the hearts, minds and memories of the fans. We will always cheer for the Orange and Blue. Go Broncos!''
There are believed to be several groups already formed and interested in making formal bids for the team. Hall of Fame quarterbacks John Elway and Peyton Manning have, at times, each expressed interest in potentially being part of any group that would bid on the team.
Manning said earlier this season, when he was enshrined in the team's Ring of Fame, he would "listen'' to any proposals about joining an ownership group, but "that it would have to be the right fit.''
League rules state a "majority'' owner must own at least 30% of a franchise, so in a sale of $4 billion, that would mean the majority investor would have to control $1.2 billion.
General manager George Paton, who was hired in January 2020, as well as newly hired head coach Nathaniel Hackett, said the ownership question did not influence their decisions to take the jobs. Each said the Broncos have always shown they had the resources to compete for championships -- the franchise has three Super Bowl wins and eight Super Bowl appearances, the last being a win in Super Bowl 50 to close out the 2015 season.
"I think that was something we talked about, but in the end it's the Denver Broncos, this is the Denver Broncos, y'all ... to have the ability be the head football coach of the Denver Broncos is unbelievable,'' Hackett said Friday when he was introduced as coach. "This is awesome; in the end, hey, that's going to work itself out and every day. Regardless of who the owner is, I have to prove myself.''