If you were hoping the NFL would deliver on its promise of trying to strengthen diversity in its ownership group, I have some bad news. The winning bid for the Denver Broncos was made by Rob Walton, the oldest of the Walton children and part of the Walmart dynasty.
The $ 4.5 billion offer is almost guaranteed to be accepted by the league, signed by the owners, and ensures that another old white billionaire joins the ranks of the team’s ownership. The undercurrent of this, outside of the NFL, is that the Walton family now have an almost unprecedented grasp on Denver sports. While it’s not uncommon for an owner to have multiple teams in the same market, it’s totally bizarre to have a dominated family like the Walton family in Colorado.
Stan Kroenke married his family through Ann Walton and built a sports empire powered by Walton’s money. Rob is himself a direct heir to the family fortune. Between the three, Walton and Kroenkes are set to control almost everything in the state of Colorado when it comes to professional sports.
Should the sale of the Broncos to Rob be finalized, here’s what the professional sports landscape looks like in the state:
- Colorado Avalanche (NHL): Owned by Ann Walton Kroenke
- Denver Broncos (NFL): Owned by Rob Walton
- Colorado Mammoth (NLL): owned by Stan Kroenke
- Denver Nuggets (NBA): Owned by Ann Walton Kroenke
- Colorado Rapids (MLS): Owned by Stan Kroenke
One family, five teams. The only professional sports franchise left in the state not owned by a part of the Walton family is the Colorado Rockies, but don’t worry – there’s speculation there too. As recently as 2021, the Denver Post pitched the idea of selling the Rockies and on the list of potential owners there is … you guessed it, Stan Kroenke.
In the whole sporting landscape of the state no one has thought of having a chat and saying “maybe it’s not nice to give a family so much power in an important market?” That’s before we get to how odd it is to have Rob Walton as the owner of the Broncos while his cousin’s husband owns the Rams. The truth is, nobody cares. Sports teams sold are billionaires who trade chips with other billionaires so they can take their money and do other billionaire things.
The real question is why no one in the NFL, NBA, NHL, MLS and MLL has thought about protecting fans from a scenario where the Walton family might choose to drastically raise ticket prices or leverage their hold on sports in the area to harm fans – and there would be no reasonable competition in the market. No alternative to promote competition. And before you think this will never happen, consider the shared DNA of the people involved here.
It’s important to discuss this, because fans deserve to know who their owners are and understand why. We deify billionaires as capitalist geniuses in America without worrying about the ethics at stake.
When I was looking to become a writer for the first time, writing at night and on weekends, my daily job was to work for a mid-tier clothing company. Our main seller: socks. My role was a business-to-business (B2B) account specialist, handling small regional department stores and mom and pop shoe stores. Much of my work involved delivering bad news, and it was largely due to Walmart.
I remember one of our most popular sellers at the time was the white sport ankle socks which were sold in a six-pack. These would cost the company about $ 2.49 per unit, landed from China. This is the total cost to us, including transportation. We sell to a small retailer for $ 3.69, with an MSRP of $ 5.99. As you can imagine, Walmart paid less for these socks – volume does it in all business. Walmart received the same package for $ 2.99 from us. That volume has a cost: the business relationship is completely one-sided.
The Walmart buyer told the account specialist who handled them that they would no longer pay $ 2.99 for the socks. Also, they wanted our company to create a band of seven pairs for them. Where they went from paying $ 2.99 for six pairs, they now wanted to pay $ 2.74 for seven pairs. I don’t know the exact figure, but I’m told that even on a large scale this would mean wiping out about a nickel on every strap sold at Walmart. Obviously that’s a ridiculously small margin that no company should ever agree on, but in the apparel world you couldn’t drive Walmart crazy. The risk of being withdrawn was too great, even with five cents of earnings per unit. Returning to Walmart after it was retired was next to impossible, and the company was convinced that having the product in their stores was a shared victory to increase marketing.
The layoffs occurred due to this move. In an effort to stop the bleeding, we had to make up for the colossal deficit somewhere. This is where I enter the fray again. I was asked to call all of my clients and tell them that the costs were increasing on everything, up to 30 percent in some cases. They had to pay for Walmart’s greed.
I was explicitly told not to mention Walmart, to fool if someone asked their cost, and if someone pushed for an explanation, tell them “the cost of production had gone up,” which I knew was a lie. The larger shops were fine. They were used to the price movement and didn’t really care. For small shoe shops this was a big problem. Socks had a big profit margin for them and didn’t go out of style and created dead stock like shoes did, so they were extremely upset.
After a week of making these calls, I was reprimanded for not towing the company line. I refused to lie to the small shops that pressed me and found my answer to get around the problem “trading conditions have changed”. Two weeks later the company spawned an excuse to fire me, saying my “focus was split” and that “I seemed distracted” because months earlier I had shared with my manager that I was a sports blogger at night and on weekends. I later found out that it is because some of my customers correctly guessed my “trading conditions have changed” line and asked why Walmart was able to charge the same cost for their seven-pair pack they did with six pairs if the cost of goods increased. There was no answer.
So just as Walmart was able to push a multimillion-dollar apparel company and screw the little guy by proxy, so too was the family behind this company now in charge of sports in Denver. I’m not saying the same practices will take place in Denver, and I honestly don’t know what Walton and Kroenke’s connection is with the company these days anyway, but the opportunity is there. We deserve to know the business practices of those who buy our teams and wield so much power.
There is absolutely nothing good that can come of having every single team in a city owned by a family. Consolidation like this only ends up hurting the little guy, and in this relationship, the fans are the little guy.