For the first time, the NFL will have a Black woman with an equity stake in a team

One of the most influential Black women executives in the country is a partner in the ownership group that just struck a deal to buy the Denver Broncos.

The Broncos announced that the team had reached a deal to be bought by a group led by Walmart heir Rob Walton, and ESPN reported today that that group included Mellody Hobson, the co-CEO of Chicago-based Ariel Investments. Hobson, 53, is one of the most powerful executives in the country. In addition to leading Ariel alongside co-CEO John W. Rogers Jr., Hobson also chairs Starbucks Corp.’s board of directors and sits on the board of financial services giant JP Morgan Chase. She’s also the spouse of legendary filmmaker George Lucas.

It’s unclear what percentage of the Broncos that Hobson would own but the sale price suggests that owning even a small percentage would be worth a considerable amount. The Walton group is expected to $4.65 billion for the team, a record amount, a record for an American sports team. The Broncos were last valued by Forbes at $3.75 billion in 2021, ranking 10th in the NFL.

The NFL, which is being sued for discrimination by three current and former coaches, issued a statement from the 32 current team owners in March that said the group would encourage having nonwhite partners among any group seeking to purchase a team in the future. Thirty-one of the current owners are white, the exception being the Jacksonville Jaguars’ Shad Khan.

In its statement, the league did not say it would require nonwhite participation in the bidding for the Broncos or any other squad. But NFL teams aren’t sold often—the last sale was that of the Carolina Panthers to billionaire investor David Tepper for $2.275 billion in 2018—and the Broncos were the only team currently up for sale. That made it clear that the NFL was either serious about diversifying its ownership ranks, or that the league would face even more criticism for giving lip service to the idea without actually executing.

Ironically, Hobson wasn’t among the publicly-known Black suitors for the Broncos until today. NBA Hall of Famer Earvin “Magic” Johnson, media entrepreneur Byron Allen and Robert F. Smith, the billionaire investor, were each rumored to be pursuing the team.

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