It’s not often that an NFL team changes ownership, but that’s exactly what happened this week when Rob Walton won the right to purchase the Denver Broncos with a final bid of $4.65 billion.
The sale price of the Broncos is the most anyone has ever paid for a sports franchise in North America, and it’s a price that the NFL‘s other 31 owners were probably thrilled to see, because it means every team in the NFL might be worth more than originally thought. Going into the 2021 season, the Broncos had an estimated value of $3.75 billion, according to Forbes, but their real value was $4.65 billion, because that’s what Walton was willing to pay.
As recently as early April, the Broncos were expected to be sold for just north of $4 billion, but NFL teams are a hot commodity that don’t come up for sale that often, which likely helped to drive up the price. Basically, with the value of each franchise shooting up, that might encourage an owner or two to cash-out and take the massive profit that would come along with a sale.
Since 2015, only two NFL teams have been sold (Panthers and Broncos), but that number could shoot up over the next decade.
So which teams could be on the selling block in the near future? Let’s take a look at the five teams that could be sold.
New Orleans Saints
The Saints might not be the next team to go up for sale, but they’re definitely going to go on the market at some point in the future. Current owner Gayle Benson made that clear back in September 2021 when she actually revealed her succession plan for the franchise. During an interview with the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the 75-year-old Benson said that the team would definitely be sold after she passes away and that all the proceeds from the sale would go to various local charities.
“I can’t take it with me,” Gayle Benson told the Times-Picayune. “God gives us gifts, and this is a gift. I am a steward for this [organization]. And we help other people with it. My wish is to scatter all the good and gifts that God and Tom have given me to this city and community.”
Gayle Benson inherited the team after her husband, Tom, died in March 2018.
The team is currently run by Jody Allen, the sister of former Seahawks owner Paul Allen, who died in October 2018. As things currently stand, the Paul Allen Trust owns the team and Jody is in charge of the trust. There has been speculation that the Seahawks could be sold, but there has been no definite indication that it’s going to happen. However, at least one person with knowledge of how the Paul Allen Trust works thinks the team is going to eventually be sold and that it could happen soon.
“Paul directed that the trust be liquidated upon his death and the assets used to fund his passion projects,” a source told Portland-based reporter John Canzano back in May. “None of this is up in the air. The instructions are clear: The sports franchises and everything in the trust must be sold.”
The trust also owns the NBA‘s Portland Trail Blazers and there’s a chance that team could be sold in the near future with Nike founder Phil Knight making an offer to buy it in early June.
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Team owner Virginia McCaskey is 99 years old and it’s not clear what’s going to happen with the team when she’s gone. There was some speculation last summer that the Bears might go on the auction block, but that talk has somewhat slowed down over the past few months.
According to Jim O’Donnell of the Daily Herald in Chicago, the sale talk from last summer stemmed from the fact that there was some “internal strife going on among family members to sell.”
At this point, selling the team would create a huge windfall for the McCaskey family. The Bears were worth an estimated $4.075 billion heading into the 2021 season, but they would likely sell for far more than than that if they were sold in the next 12 months. As a matter of fact, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see a team like the Bears sell for more than $5 billion. If the Bears were sold for anywhere near that amount, it would create a huge profit for the family. To put that potential profit in perspective, just consider this: George Halas bought the team for only $100 back in 1920.
Dan Snyder will likely never sell this team on his own accord, but there’s a chance he could end up selling if he’s forced out by the NFL’s other owners. Snyder’s tenure as owner has been an absolute disaster, and things have only gotten worse over the past 12 months. Last July, the franchise was fined $10 million following an NFL investigation into allegations of workplace misconduct that included instances of sexual harassment. After the results of that investigation were announced Snyder was ordered to relinquish day-to-day operations of the team.
Eleven months later, things haven’t gotten much better for the franchise. For one, the NFL opened another investigation in February and the league is now looking into more allegations of workplace misconduct. Also, let’s not forget that the Commanders are also being investigated by Congress for possible financial improprieties that include the allegation that Snyder was siphoning off money from other owners by using two sets of books to keep track of financial records.
If the investigations show that Snyder knew what was going on in either situation, he might reach the point where other owners don’t want him around anymore.
Los Angeles Chargers
Dean Spanos has long insisted that he’ll never sell the team, but it’s possible he could change his mind due to the fact that he’s currently tied up in several ugly legal situations. The first problem for Spanos is that his own sister, Dea Spanos Berberian, has filed a lawsuit against him.
The Chargers have one of the most unique ownership setups in the NFL. The Spanos family has owned the team since 1984 when Alex Spanos purchased 60% of it for $70 million. Over the years, Spanos eventually came to control 96% of the team, and he passed that on to his family when he died in October 2018.
After his death, his four adult children — Alexandra Spanos Ruhl, Michael Spanos, Dean Spanos and Berberian — were each given 15% of the team. The rest of the family’s stake in the team (36%) was put into a trust, which is run by Dean Spanos and Berberian.
According to a petition filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court back in March 2021, Berberian wants the team to be sold due to the fact that the trust allegedly has mounting debts that total more than $350 million. According to the same documents, the trust is so hard up for money that it struggled to pay more than $22 million that it pledged to various charities.
Berberian’s sons, Dimitri and Lex Economou, have also filed a lawsuit against Dean Spanos, alleging that he secretly diverted money from the family trust, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Dean Spanos is also in a spot where he’s “challenging $5.8 million in tax deficiencies and penalties assessed against the estates,” and if the team’s financial woes get worse, it might give him another reason to sell.
If either of the lawsuits end up having any merit, Spanos might decide that it would be easier to just cash out and sell since NFL teams are such a hot commodity right now. If the Chargers sold for $4 billion, each family member’s 15% share would be worth $600 million.
Jimmy Haslam just bought the team in 2012 and he’s certainly not looking to sell, but the situation with Deshaun Watson could put him in an awkward spot. Giving a fully guaranteed $230 million contract to someone facing 24 sexual misconduct lawsuits isn’t a great look for the league, and if Watson ends up getting suspended for a serious amount of time, there’s going to be a lot of blowback and most of it is going to fall on Haslam, who had to OK the Watson trade before it could happen. Haslam bought the team for just $1.05 billion in 2012, and if he doesn’t want to deal with the backlash from the Watson situation, he could simply sell the team and move on.