Robert Smith – the nation’s wealthiest black man – is putting together a bid for the Denver Broncos, sources close to the matter tell The Post.
Sealing the deal would make him the first black owner of an NFL team and would come as the league is scrambling to repair its banged-up image when it comes to race relations. Making an offer is also a reversal for Smith, who just last month had said he wasn’t interested in the team, sources said.
Now Smith – who famously paid off the student loans of the entire 2019 graduating class of Morehouse College – also could have competition: Walmart heir Robson Walton, who’s interested in buying the Broncos, sources familiar with the matter say.
Walton — whose sister Ann is married to Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams owner Stan Kroenke — is estimated to be worth more than $60 billion. A Walton representative declined to comment.
Smith, who is reportedly worth around $9 billion, “wants to be the George Steinbrenner of Denver,” another source following the situation said. “He’s putting a team together to put the finances in place,” the source said.
It’s not clear yet what he’ll offer or how his financing will be put together.
The NFL for months has been frantically appealing to Smith to buy the Broncos — and until now he has shown a reluctance to bid. But Smith has a personal connection: He’s a Denver native who grew up rooting for the Broncos.
And even though sources close to him earlier said he ruled out a bid, Smith’s wife — Hope Dworaczyk Smith, a former Playboy model — posted a series of pictures of herself in a suite at this year’s Super Bowl hinting that buying the Broncos was still a possibility. “Trying out this new owner of team idea,” she said in the Instagram post.
Smith, who declined to comment for this story, needs to act soon if he wants to buy the team.
The Broncos are going through an estate sale and the team’s banker, Allen & Co., has recently asked interested parties to submit financial information showing they can afford to buy the team, sources said.
To fund what likely would be around a $4 billion purchase, a suitor would need to put down about $1 billion of their own cash. That’s after factoring that a bidder could put up to $1 billion of debt on the team — and that a controlling owner would need to have at least a 33% equity stake.
Jeff Bezos is also a rumored Broncos suitor who’s being taken seriously by sports industry sources. Los Angeles Dodgers owner Todd Boehly and Philadelphia 76ers owner Josh Harris also have been said to be interested in a possible bid for the Broncos, industry sources said.
Meanwhile, Weather Channel owner Byron Allen, who also would be the first NFL black owner, has said he’s interested in buying the Broncos, but sports industry sources have said they’re skeptical he has the funds.
The Broncos this week traded for nine-time Pro Bowl Quarterback Russell Wilson – perhaps making the team even a hotter property, sources said.
The NFL has an owners meeting March 27 to March 30 at which the Broncos situation is sure to be discussed.
Smith has been dedicating much of his time on racial equality — including his Southern Communities Initiative, which aims to invest and raise money for improvements in six cities that represent half the black population: Atlanta; Birmingham, Alabama; Charlotte; Houston; Memphis; and New Orleans. That includes providing Internet service for low-income and minority households, and giving black owned businesses access to capital.
He has come around to the belief he would be more effective making changes in the NFL from within, where 70% of the players are black, than being outside the process, sources familiar with the matter say.
Weeks ago, Smith was busy raising a new $20 billion-plus private equity fund and sources believed he did not want to split his focus between that and the Broncos auction.
Sources familiar with the matter say New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft has been encouraging Smith to bid. Kraft has been working with Smith on aiding African Americans who are incarcerated. And Smith now believes a black owner holding a Super Bowl trophy would set a great precedent, sources say.
The NFL is trying to combat an image among some that has a problem with race relations. Just recently, Ex-Miami Dolphins Coach Brian Flores filed a lawsuit against the NFL that compared the league to a “plantation.”
Meanwhile, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has been comfortable admitting Smith as an owner – aware that in 2020 he reached a $140 million settlement with the US Department of Justice over tax evasion, according to a source familiar.