How Hamilton, Condoleezza Rice and Walmart’s king pulled off the richest takeover in sports history

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Over in Colorado, war was never declared against the ruling family. Instead, conflict broke out in-house — a prolonged, public domestic involving heirs to one of American football’s most successful franchises.

D-Day eventually arrived last summer, when the Denver Broncos were sold for £3.87billion. It had been messy and bitter. It all ended with the richest takeover in sports history.

So, for all the green and gold and bile thrown their way, the Glazers’ succession planning at Manchester United seems rather serene.

The sale of United, which came to the boil on Friday night, should prove even more lucrative, too. There is interest from Qatar, from Saudi Arabia, the US and Britain. The Broncos were not short of suitors, either — NFL teams do not come on the market very often. Among the bidders? Todd Boehly, whose consortium wound up buying Chelsea.

In the end, the NFL side were sold to a group which included a former US Secretary of State, the heirs to Walmart, the chairwoman of Starbucks and… Lewis Hamilton.

How Hamilton, Condoleezza Rice and Walmart’s king pulled off the richest takeover in sports history

Before Manchester United’s sale came the tale of how Lewis Hamilton, Condoleezza Rice and Walmart’s king pulled off the richest takeover in sports history

The Denver Broncos were sold for £3.87billion last summer after a messy and bitter period within in the Bowlen family

The Denver Broncos were sold for £3.87billion last summer after a messy and bitter period within in the Bowlen family

‘Today marks a significant step on the path to an exciting new chapter in Broncos history,’ then-president Joe Ellis said after a deal was agreed with the Walton- Penner family.

After years of turmoil, the Broncos suddenly had sport’s deepest pockets. And then this season, the first under new ownership, they finished bottom of the AFC West. A cautionary tale, perhaps, for those connected to Old Trafford.

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Pat Bowlen first bought a majority stake in the Broncos — along with his siblings — in 1984. It was said to have cost him $78million. He then oversaw one of the most successful tenures in NFL history: the franchise won three Super Bowls on his watch.

Not long before their third title in the 2015 season, however, Bowlen handed over control to a trust. He had been battling Alzheimer’s and eventually died in 2019. His long-held wish had been for one of his seven children to take over in time.

Unfortunately, what followed was siblings pitted against one another and years of mudslinging. Reports from across the pond detail the extraordinary timeline: one daughter declared in 2018 she was ready to take control of the Broncos, the trustees — ‘handpicked’ by her father — let it be known that her half-sister would fill their late father’s seat. 

Before long, the ‘simmering’ family feud spilt out into the open and towards court. In 2015, the trust fired Bowlen’s daughter. In February 2022, it was announced that the franchise was up for sale.

Following initial bids, five ‘finalists’ were invited for a tour of the team’s base and a closer look at the numbers.

Interested parties included Josh Harris, the billionaire shareholder at Crystal Palace recently linked with a bid for United, and the consortium fronted by Boehly.

The bidders that won out, however, was led by America’s richest family: Rob Walton, the heir to Walmart said to be worth around $60bn, his daughter Carrie Walton Penner, and her husband Greg Penner.

This season, the first under new ownership, the Denver Broncos finished bottom of the AFC West

This season, the first under new ownership, the Denver Broncos finished bottom of the AFC West

They were flanked by Mellody Hobson — chair of the board at Starbucks — and Condoleezza Rice, who served as Secretary of State under George W Bush. Then came Hamilton. The seven-time Formula One world champion took a stake in the team, with Walton declaring: ‘He is a champion competitor who knows what it takes to lead a winning team.’

A few months earlier, Hamilton and Serena Williams had joined a consortium led by Sir Martin Broughton to buy Chelsea. He was said to be planning an investment of more than £10m. Alas, they lost out to Boehly and Co.

Hamilton was then recruited to the Broncos by Hobson — who is black — and the Mercedes driver wanted to help increase diversity in NFL boardrooms.

‘It’s such an honour and such an amazing opportunity. I remember when I was nine years old, I used to live on an American air base for a short period of time in the UK, and that was the first time I became aware of the NFL, and I used to play (video game) Madden,’ he said at the time.

‘There’s a real lack of black ownership (in the NFL) and I’m pushing for diversity constantly. There’s a lot of work to do.’

The Broncos have unfinished business on the pitch, too.

They lost 12 of 17 regular season matches in 2022 and have not reached the play-offs since 2015.

‘I am confident that their leadership and support will help this team achieve great things on and off the field,’ Ellis declared after the lucrative takeover. But that can take time. As United might soon discover.

PSWalton’s cousin Ann is married to Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke, who also controls the Los Angeles Rams (NFL) Denver Nuggets (NBA), Colorado Avalanche (NHL) and Colorado Rapids (MLS).

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