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NFL is begging the US’s richest black man to buy the Denver Broncos, sources say

The National Football League is frantically appealing to Robert F. Smith, the nation’s richest black man, to buy the Denver Broncos — but thus far he has shown a reluctance to bid, sources told The Post. Smith — a New York-based private-equity tycoon who famously spent $34 million in 2019 to pay off the student loans of the entire graduating class of Morehouse College — is a Denver native, and would become the first black owner of an NFL team if he purchased the Broncos. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is pulling out all the stops to woo Smith, even as the team is rumored to have gained interest from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, as well as quarterback legends Peyton Manning and John Elway, sources said. That’s because Goodell is scrambling to repair the league’s banged-up image when it comes to race relations. “Goodell is putting tremendous pressure on him to bid,” a source close to the situation said of Smith. Last week, ex-Miami Dolphins Coach Brian Flores filed a lawsuit against the NFL that compared the league to a “plantation,” where 70 percent of the players are black and none of the owners are. Nevertheless, 59-year-old Smith, who has an estimated net worth of $6.7 billion, according to Forbes, is in the middle of raising a $20 billion-plus fund for his Austin, Texas-based buyout firm, Vista Equity Partners. He doesn’t want to be saddled with hunting for a new starting quarterback, two sources said. “Smith grew up as a Broncos fan and might want to buy a team, but not now while he is raising a fund,” one source close to the situation said. “I think it’s 50/50 whether he bids for the team,” a well-placed banking source told The Post. “The NFL desperately wants Smith to bid. Right now, he doesn’t want to. If Smith bids, he wins.” Smith didn’t respond to requests for comment. For its part, the NFL told The Post: “There is tremendous interest in owning NFL franchises, including the Denver Broncos, which are now up for sale. Numerous parties have expressed interest and that includes multiple minority executives.” Reports that Smith — who is also the chairman of Carnegie Hall — was a possible bidder for the Broncos first surfaced late last month. Smith didn’t comment at the time, but a source close to the billionaire sought to throw cold water on the speculation. “Robert’s priorities right now are on the fight for voting rights and economic justice rather than being … an owner of a team,’’ a source said in a statement quoted by multiple outlets. “He continues to be most focused on how he can best help underserved communities gain access to capital, healthcare, education, and the ballot box. Pursuing ownership of the Broncos is not on his radar right now.” Even for Smith, buying the Broncos would require a significant chunk of change. Insiders expect the team — which has hired investment bank Allen & Co. to explore a sale after being placed in a trust of the late owner Patrick Bowlen — will fetch upwards of $4 billion in an auction. That could double the $2.2 billion that hedge-fund mogul David Tepper paid for the Carolina Panthers in 2018 — still a record price for an NFL franchise. League rules require that an owner put no more than $1 billion in debt on a team and put down at least 33 percent of the equity. Even if Smith brought in partners to buy the rest of the team, which insiders expect he would, Smith would have to write a check of at least $1 billion. Earlier this week, comedian-turned-media mogul Byron Allen said he is preparing a bid for the Broncos. Still, a source familiar with Allen’s finances said he likely doesn’t even have $250 million to invest in the team, and that the league is not taking his efforts seriously. “Anyone who announces themselves as a bidder is not a real candidate,” a banker close to the sale process said of Allen. Byron Allen said in an interview with The Post that capital isn’t an issue. Meanwhile, at a Super Bowl press conference Wednesday, Goodell said the league has met with Allen a “couple of times” about the Broncos, but “he is not the only individual that’s interested in buying an NFL team that is black and we have worked hard to make sure we have as many candidates possible and put them in a position to succeed.”

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