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Denver Broncos announce they are officially on the market

Closeup shot of an NFL football helmet sitting on a football field. A yellow goalpost is visible in the background. The stands are dotted with spectators.
Jack Dempsey
A Denver Broncos helmet sits on the field prior to an NFL football game between the Denver Broncos and the Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017, in Denver. The Broncos are looking for a new owner in what’s expected to be the most expensive team sale in U.S. sports history.

The Denver Broncos are looking for a new owner in what’s expected to be the most expensive team sale in U.S. sports history.

The Pat D. Bowlen Trust announced Tuesday it's in the “beginning of a sale process” for a franchise that's valued at $4 billion and is expected to draw heavy bidding that could push the sale price well beyond that figure.

The highest price paid for a U.S. sports franchise is the $2.35 billion that Alibaba Group cofounder and Canadian billionaire Joe Tsai paid for the Brooklyn Nets in 2019. The last NFL team that went on the market was the Carolina Panthers, whom David Tepper bought for $2.275 billion.

The trustees who run the Broncos hope to have a new owner in place by the start of next season, said team president and CEO Joe Ellis.

Ellis, who is one of three trustees of The Pat Bowlen Trust, said Steve Greenberg of Allen & Company was retained as financial advisor and Joe Leccese of Proskauer Rose LLP as legal advisor for the ownership transition.

“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," Ellis said in a statement.

NFL franchise values have skyrocketed with new broadcast deals and the league’s embrace of sports betting, which is now legal in many states, including Colorado. And teams rarely go on sale.

The Broncos are a regional team with a great history including three Super Bowl titles, seven Super Bowl appearances and 21 playoff berths since Pat Bowlen purchased the team from Edgar Kaiser in 1984.

The team has an up-and-coming roster under general manager George Paton, who was hired a year ago when John Elway was reassigned to president of football operations. Last week, Paton hired Nathaniel Hackett as the team's new head coach, replacing Vic Fangio.

Elway, who is in the final months of his contract, and Peyton Manning, who has lived in Denver since his retirement, are expected to get involved as minority partners of billionaires competing to win the NFL’s approval to acquire the franchise.

The Broncos won two Super Bowl titles in the late 1990s with Elway under center and again in 2016 with Elway in the front office and Manning at quarterback in the final game of his Hall of Fame career.

The Broncos haven't reached the playoffs since then, however, and have churned through 10 starting quarterbacks since Manning retired.

Hackett's hiring has led to speculation the Broncos could make a play to acquire Packers star quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Even if they don't, Paton has assembled enough draft capital — 11 picks, including five of the top 100 — and has some $50 million in salary cap space to transform the team this offseason.

Bowlen died in 2019, a month shy of his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, following a long bout with Alzheimer’s. Several years earlier he had appointed a three-person trust to determine the future of the franchise.

“Pat used to say the Broncos belonged to the fans and that ultimately this was their team. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you for this incredible ride. It has been the honor of our lifetime,” the Bowlen family said in a statement. “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!”

The trustees had wanted Brittany Bowlen, 32, one of Pat Bowlen's daughters from his second marriage, to succeed her father as controlling owner, but Ellis said all seven children had to agree to that plan or the team would be sold.

The long-running ownership saga in Denver took a turn last summer when two daughters from Bowlen’s first marriage withdrew a lawsuit that contested Bowlen’s wishes, paving the way for a sale.

“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,” Ellis said.

Copyright 2022 Associated Press. All rights reserved.