Sports

Meet Byron Allen, Long-Shot Bidder for the Denver Broncos

Byron Allen during a recent appearance on CBS Sunday Morning.
Byron Allen during a recent appearance on CBS Sunday Morning. CBS Sunday Morning via YouTube
The favorite among the five candidates bidding for the Denver Broncos is widely believed to be Walmart heir Rob Walton (a theory boosted by the fact that his sons Ben and Sam live in Colorado), followed by fellow billionaires Josh Harris, whose partners include basketball legend Magic Johnson, and new Chelsea F.C. owner Todd Boehly. Two other hopefuls weren't initially named publicly, but one of them has now been identified as a group led by entrepreneur Byron Allen, who talked up his interest in purchasing the franchise during a series of appearances earlier this year, including one on CBS Sunday Morning.

Allen is considered a long shot, in part because he's a veritable pauper compared to Walton, Harris and Boehly; his nest egg is calculated at $450 million, or less than 7 percent of Walton's estimated $70 billion net worth. He'd need a lot of help from very wealthy friends to become a serious contender.

But Allen, who's Black, should be taken seriously, in part because his efforts have earned the blessing of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell amid the league's ongoing, public-relations-driven diversity campaign; this week's Coach and Front Office Accelerator, an Atlanta-based seminar/meet-and-greet involving sixty head coaching and general manager prospects of color and franchise owners, all of whom are white, is another example. And even if Allen doesn't land the Broncos, he may get a shot at another team soon — a development that would add a fascinating chapter to a personal success story that saw him parlay minor fame as a comedian and TV presenter into an impressive media empire.

A native of Detroit, Byron Allen Folks (he dropped the last name professionally) grew up in Los Angeles; thanks to his mother, Carolyn Folks, who worked as a publicist for NBC, he was able to access show-business connections from an early age. He began developing a standup routine at fourteen, and television personality Jimmie Walker hired him as a writer while he was still in high school. But he wasn't interested in remaining behind the scenes, and in 1979, when he was eighteen, he made his network television debut on The Tonight Show, hosted by Johnny Carson.

Here's a clip of an Allen appearance on the same program in 1980:
By the time of this gig, Allen was already a regular on NBC's Real People, a reality show of sorts that focused on, yes, "real people" with oddball hobbies or occupations. He served as one of the program's hosts from 1979 to 1984, but as noted in a CSQ magazine profile from 2019, he also delivered jokes as the opening act for celebrities such as Lionel Richie, Dolly Parton and Sammy Davis Jr.

By 1993, Allen had founded Entertainment Studios, a company whose main product was Entertainers With Byron Allen, which he described as "this once-a-week, one-hour show where I'm interviewing seven movie stars about their latest projects." The success of that offering spawned plenty of others; by 2019, he had a stunning 65 shows on the airwaves, including Comics Unleashed With Byron Allen, The American Athlete and Funny You Should Ask.

Still, Allen's biggest deal happened in March 2018, when he ponied up $318 million to purchase the Weather Channel, the most prestigious item in his portfolio. And he hasn't been afraid to fight the power, as indicated by separate $10 billion racial-discrimination lawsuits filed against Comcast and Charter Communications; the complaints were settled in 2020 and 2021, respectively.

Entertainment Studios remains very much a going concern. But these days, Allen's main focus is on the Allen Media Group, formed in 2019, which an April press release said was "blazing a unique path through acquisition — including the annexation in the past few years of 27 local broadcast stations in 21 markets." Among his deals was the purchase of 21 regional sports networks from Walt Disney/FOX Corporation,  executed in tandem with Sinclair Broadcast Group. The price tag was around $10.6 billion — more than double the estimated $4-$5 billion for which the Broncos are expected to sell.

There's no question that Allen, who was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame last year, loves the limelight, and he's hardly shied away from commenting about his interest in the Broncos. But if he's outbid for that team, his dreams of diversifying the NFL ownership club aren't necessarily over. This week, CBS Sports reported that members of that exclusive coterie may be on the verge of forcing Daniel Snyder to sell the Washington Commanders (formerly the Washington Redskins and Washington Football Team) because of "damning reports and allegations...including, but not limited to, a toxic culture involving its own cheerleaders and another recent blockbuster allegation that Snyder and the Commanders held two separate accounting books — presumably in an effort to keep portions of revenue away from other owners in the revenue-sharing construct."

Should Snyder get the heave-ho, Allen would be a popular choice to become the Commanders' chief. Unless he defies expectations and ends up with the Broncos, that is.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts