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Fight over Broncos ownership could get ugly

It was clear we were headed for a fight over majority control of the Broncos three years ago. It all came to a head on Thursday, and it’s safe to say this is only the beginning.

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The fight over ownership of the Denver Broncos just amped up tenfold. And even that might be an understatement.

Hold onto your butts, Broncos fans, the next few months could be a wild ride. We started with the news that Beth Bowlen Wallace wants to become the majority owner of the franchise. Where it ends, and how ugly it gets, is anyone’s guess.

But before we go much further, let’s go over how we got here and the current state of the ownership.


It started three years ago when news broke at the start of Broncos training camp that owner Pat Bowlen was giving up control of the organization due to his battle with Alzheimer’s. It was news that shook the franchise, fans and NFL world to its core. It still does.

But even before that, the Pat Bowlen Trust — comprising non-family members — was created more than 10 years ago to act as owner. The trust was to serve in that capacity until one of Bowlen’s seven kids could show they were capable and qualified to take control of the team.

As it stands, Broncos president Joe Ellis acts in Bowlen’s place as the CEO and has final say. It’s a role Ellis has had since 2011. The other two members of the Trust include team general counsel Rich Slivka and Denver attorney Mary Kelly.

The ultimate goal is to ensure the Broncos stay in the Bowlen family, but the signs of a massive battle were becoming apparent in 2015, and it finally came to a head on Thursday. If the news serves as a precursor, it will get ugly.

Ownership news

As noted earlier, the news started on Thursday when The Athletic quoted Bowlen-Wallace saying she wanted to take majority control of the organization. Beth is the second child of Bowlen who graduated from the University of Denver School of Law and has been a practicing attorney. Perhaps more important is she’s worked for the organization.

“I have completed the criteria laid out by the trustees, so I felt it was a good time to come out and express my interest and desire to be a part of the organization again,” Bowlen Wallace told The Athletic. “I think it’s important to reintroduce myself there, and any leader would want to try to earn the respect of the people they’re working with. Since it is my dad’s wishes, I’m hoping they’ll respond favorably, especially since it includes all of the children as having an opportunity at some point in time.”

One is led to assume Bowlen Wallace has the credentials and qualifications to make Mr. B’s wishes a reality. Denver’s minority owners, Kerry and John Bowlen (also his brother), Pat’s other brother, Bill, and oldest daughter, Amie, all support her as owner of the Broncos.

As Bill, who sold his interest in the franchise in 1996, said in a statement to The Denver Channel: “Beth is fully capable and qualified to run and manage the Broncos, as she has met all the requirements established to lead the team.”

Ellis and the Trust disagree. They not only disagree, they made it sound as if Bowlen Wallace serving as majority owner won’t happen.

From the Trust in Thursday’s news release:

“As trustees honoring the clear wishes of Pat, we have thoroughly evaluated whether Beth is capable of succeeding her father as controlling owner. We have determined that she is not capable or qualified at this time.

“We have communicated our decision to Beth and her lawyers on multiple occasions. She is also fully informed as to why her employment with the team ended in 2015.

“Although Beth has declined our invitations to discuss her qualifications for the last two years, we will continue to proactively engage and meet with any of the Bowlen children who express a desire to earn the right to succeed their father.”

Added Ellis: “As a trustee and someone Pat designated to oversee his team, I have an enormous responsibility to carefully administer his succession plan and make decisions in the best interests of the Broncos. We will continue to follow Pat’s blueprint — and nobody else’s — while keeping our focus as an organization on having a successful season.”

Lines have been drawn

On one side you have the minority owners, brothers and oldest daughter in support of Bowlen Wallace to replace Mr. B as Denver’s majority owner.

On the other you have the Trust that thinks Bowlen Wallace is neither capable nor qualified.

Since that’s how the Trust thinks, as others have pointed out, it must be forthcoming and transparent as to what that criteria is. Why isn’t Bowlen Wallace capable or qualified? What does she have to do to become such?

The other aspect that must get addressed is why minority ownership and Bowlen’s two brothers have such a drastic difference of opinion from Ellis and the Trust. It’s clear the Trust has the final say, but do the opinions of the minority owners and Bowlen’s brothers carry no weight? If so, why?

We got a sense of what some of the subjective criteria is from a story in The Denver Post in January. As the story says, that includes “leadership and integrity and sound judgment. But it also includes more specific requirements, such as bachelor’s degree, paired with an MBA, J.D. or other advanced business-related degree. It also mandates at least five years of senior management experience with the league, team or Stadium Management Company, the group that operates the Broncos’ soon-to-be-renamed stadium. It does not, however, specify which job titles are considered senior management.”

Now that this has become public, the Trust must release this criteria. Broad statements will not cut it, especially with the role taxpayer money played in paying for the new Mile High Stadium and all of the talk of how the Broncos are part of the community. Since this involves the future of the franchise, fans should get nothing less than an open and transparent process.

It was clear we were headed for a fight over majority control of the Broncos three years ago, and it’s safe to say this is just the beginning. As former NFL executive and agent Andrew Brandt always says, “there will be lawyers.”

Hold on to your butts, Broncos fans.