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Beth Bowlen Wallace questions her ‘unqualified’ designation by Broncos trustees for potential controlling owner

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Mile High Report talked with Beth Bowlen Wallace about her desires to own the franchise — and the roadblocks from the Trust to pursue it.

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Carolina Panthers v Denver Broncos Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

Editor’s note: This is an exclusive three-part series regarding future ownership of the Denver Broncos. This is Part 1, here is Part 2 and Part 3. This first story represents a recap of the situation as of now — based on previous reports, news conference transcripts and court documents — plus an interview with Beth Bowlen Wallace in December. Brittany Bowlen declined the offer to be interviewed. While Pat Bowlen’s incredible accomplishments since taking over the franchise in 1984 must be the focus this weekend where he is concerned, the ownership debacle falls squarely on the current leadership. These stories about the Trust and the Bowlen children have nothing to do with Pat Bowlen’s much-deserved nomination to the HOF Class of 2019.

There is no denying that the debacle within the Denver Broncos organization for finding a successor to owner Pat Bowlen is ultra messy.

Two daughters from two different mothers are throwing their “helmets onto the field” as the future controlling owner to succeed their father.

One daughter is being officially anointed by the three-person Pat Bowlen Trust that was charged with naming the future owner — while the other is using the mouthpiece of the national media to prove her worthiness for consideration, taking her credentials to the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal last fall.

William “Bill” Bowlen filed suit in October, arguing that the Trust isn’t doing as his brother Pat Bowlen had asked.

And the Trust filed a counter suit in November to say that it is — and also asked the court for NFL arbitration.

The trustees’ Nov. 23 response to Bill Bowlen’s original petition included a signed affidavit from Richard Robinson, a shareholder with the law firm hired in 2007 to review Pat Bowlen’s estate plan, who drafted the PDB Trust, Pat Bowlen’s will and power of attorney in 2009. Robinson states in the trustees’ affidavit that Pat Bowlen appointed the trustees “because they were his trusted advisors,” The Athletic’s Nicki Jhabvala reported.

Bill Bowlen responded to the trustees by filing for an injunction.

At Roger Goodell’s annual “State of the League” news conference on Wednesday (Jan. 30), the commissioner noted that he cannot say too much about the issue since he and the league are involved, but he added it is “sad when disputes like this occur.”

“It’s not something Pat Bowlen, who I knew [sic] very well, would have wanted,” Goodell said. “The Broncos meant a great deal to him and to his family. The best thing we can do this week is focus on Pat Bowlen and his contributions and his viability to become a new member of the Hall of Fame.”

Like we said, ultra messy.

Unfortunately, Mr. B can’t solve this

Of all the unfortunate circumstances surrounding this debacle, the most unfortunate is that the one man who could clear everything up is not of sound mind, having officially announced an Alzheimer’s diagnosis nearly five years ago and relinquished day-to-day control.

So we are left with the people who will talk — and mostly that has been the Trust, headed by Joe Ellis (who is also CEO and president of the Broncos), claiming there is only one choice — 29-year-old daughter Brittany Bowlen. The other two members of the Trust — comprising non-family members — include team general counsel Rich Slivka and Denver attorney Mary Kelly.

But Bowlen Wallace, the 48-year-old daughter from Pat Bowlen’s first marriage, has made it clear she is both interested and qualified, despite the Trust’s disapproval.

Many in Broncos Country are fine with the words from Ellis and the Trust about the future ownership prospects. Others are skeptical of the process and decision-making by this group that also has ownership power in the absence of a named successor.

We at Mile High Report were among the skeptical last spring when it became clear the two women were not being presented in equal light — beginning with coverage comparing the two but favoring one.

So we reached out to the two potential owners to ask more questions. Bowlen Wallace answered questions last month via email. Brittany Bowlen declined the offer, saying the focus should only be on her dad’s selection as a finalist to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

A life interrupted

Pat Bowlen’s legacy as the Broncos owner — one that will hopefully be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame this Saturday (Feb. 2) — was sadly cut short when the beloved owner announced publicly in July 2014 he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and would be handing over to Ellis the day-to-day responsibilities he could no longer manage.

At the same time, a 2009 Trust that had been established for facilitating the transition to a Bowlen child as a future owner down the road, was revised so three trustees would be the interim “owners” of the team and would ultimately name a successor to Pat Bowlen based on certain to-be-determined criteria.

That “criteria” and the Trust’s overseeing of the process is at the center of a debate now being considered in district court as a judge may determine whether the wishes of Pat Bowlen have been reflected.

Pat Bowlen — who bought the team from Edgar Kaiser in 1984 for $78 million — needed the help of his siblings back then to purchase the team. According to the lawsuit filed last October by brother Bill Bowlen, Pat Bowlen bought the shares of his sister Mary Elizabeth Jagger in 1998-99 and Bill in 2002-03. His brother John maintained a minority ownership of 30-35 percent.

Earlier this year, the Broncos bought back an undisclosed portion of John’s stake in the team, a franchise that Forbes values at $2.65 billion.

Ownership of the Broncos is a complex web of various entities, but the official owner is PDB Sports, Ltd., a Colorado limited partnership. Controlling ownership of that entity is held by Bowlen Sports, Inc., an Arizona corporation owned by Pat and John Bowlen. Pat Bowlen’s ownership interest in Bowlen Sports, Inc., is held through the “Patrick D. Bowlen Trust,” the one created in March 2009, according to the petition filed.

The purpose of the PDB Trust was to establish a path for transferring ownership of the Broncos to one of Pat Bowlen’s seven children — two with his first wife Sally Parker and five with current wife Annabel Bowlen.

Pat Bowlen formally filed with the NFL in 2013 to step down from his day-to-day duties as controlling owner because of the progression of Alzheimer’s.

Ellis took over as the controlling owner, serving as the team voice for the NFL and making the daily decisions Mr. B would have made if he were still in charge.

Why are we here?

There’s a lot of ambiguity surrounding both daughters as potential owners. For most of us fans, we know the Bowlen kids only by their appearances on the podium during championship games or at charity events (or by Johnny Bowlen’s arrests and social media meltdowns). So we have been at the mercy of the Trust to tell us who is qualified and why — and that hasn’t been the most transparent.

As soon as Bowlen Wallace made her interest known publicly in May, her background, education and experience were denounced while those of her younger sister were suddenly heralded.

The daughters are from different marriages, and the PDB Trust has indicated its favored choice is Brittany, who was a business analyst for the Broncos for about a year and recently earned an MBA from Duke University. She is currently working as an associate in the Denver office for the global management consulting giant, McKinsey & Company.

After Bowlen Wallace announced her interest of owning the team, the Broncos issued an official statement rejecting her qualifications, while 9NEWS’ Mike Klis presented the two potential future owners in an unfair comparison, as reported by MHR’s Jess Place.

Ian St. Clair reported just after the announcement that this could get ugly, and it certainly has.

Jhabvala spoke to Bowlen Wallace after her announcement of interest in owning the team.

“I know the fans have been anxious and asking quite a few questions about what’s happening with the succession plan of the Denver Broncos,” she told The Athletic. “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.”

In response, the Pat D. Bowlen Trust also issued an official statement: “Bowlen Wallace is not the only Bowlen child who is expressing interest in becoming controlling owner. The trustees have informed Beth of their determination that she is not capable or qualified at this time. We will continue to follow Pat Bowlen’s long-standing succession plan for the future ownership of the Denver Broncos.”

The Bowlen daughters

Why Bowlen Wallace is not qualified and how the trustees are handling the succession plan is among the crux of the complaints in Bill Bowlen’s legal petition.

The official process to find the most capable successor among Pat Bowlen’s seven children started in 2012 when trustees told the Bowlen children they would determine the qualifications. In February 2015, trustees released a three-page memorandum listing the criteria with requirements that included, among other things, an advanced degree such as an MBA or J.D., plus five years of “senior management experience” with the NFL, the Broncos or the Stadium Management Company that runs the team’s stadium in Denver.

The Trust also included a caveat that meeting the criteria would not guarantee appointment as controlling owner.

In Bill Bowlen’s petition, he states that the Trust’s claim that Bowlen Wallace had not met the five-year requirement was essentially due to a wrongful termination in 2015 of the position she had been appointed to in 2012.

Bowlen Wallace had earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Colorado in 1994, and after moving to Hawaii with her husband, started an event planning company. She returned to Colorado in 2008 in part because of her father.

“A primary factor was certainly to come back and assess the situation with my father and his health, and to be as close to him as I could,” Bowlen Wallace told The Athletic last fall.

Bowlen Wallace was hired in 2012 as the Broncos director of special projects. According to the court petition, and corroborated by Bowlen Wallace, this was a result of several months of discussion between Pat Bowlen, Ellis and Bowlen Wallace about how to get her into a management position within the organization.

In her role, Bowlen Wallace participated in the team’s charitable involvements with the Alzheimer’s Association, Urban Youth Ministries and Colorado Uplift. But her primary involvement was fundraising for and developing the Ring of Fame Plaza on the south side of the stadium — the Ring of Fame is a legacy her dad had created in 1984 to honor the players and employees.

Bowlen Wallace told Mile High Report she traveled to different stadiums around the country to research how they displayed memorabilia and honored past players and executives.

“I was struck by Memorial Park at Yankee Stadium,” she said. “It was such a moving honor to the past contributors. It was in the outfield of the stadium and the full history of how it was planned there was meaningful. For our Ring of Fame Plaza, I wanted our fans to have access to see the plaza, whether they had a game ticket or not. It was important to me that our tribute be outside the stadium. It has been very fulfilling to go to the stadium on off days and see fans there taking photos and walking around Ring of Fame Plaza and my father’s tribute.”

In 2015, Bowlen Wallace also entered the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law program in order to meet the education criteria for becoming an owner. She completed that degree in 2016.

However, the day after she told the Broncos she would be pursuing her law degree alongside her role with the Broncos, Bowlen Wallace was told her position as special projects director — a position she maintains her father and Ellis helped create so she could fulfill the criteria of working with the Broncos or NFL for at least five years — was being eliminated.

“The timing of the elimination of my position is suspect,” Bowlen Wallace told MHR. “My position at the Denver Broncos was eliminated less than 24 hours after conveying to one of the trustees that I was going to obtain my law degree in an effort to meet their criteria simply made no sense to me. I had never received a negative employee review, in fact it was quite the opposite. I was demonstrating an effort to meet all the criteria by obtaining my law degree, something my father had. I cannot explain why the trustees felt my position needed to be eliminated, but I know my father would not have reacted to my announcement that way. The trustees gave me no explanation other than the position had ‘no value.’”

Bowlen Wallace disagrees with the Trust’s change of heart on the validity of her position, arguing that any position in accordance with fulfilling her father’s wishes should be considered valuable.

“Given that the trustees’ authored the criteria, this action,” Bowlen Wallace said, “made me more concerned about their motivations.”

Bill Bowlen’s lawsuit claims that the Trust’s actions were “a pretext to prevent her from meeting the criteria established in the 2015 Criteria Memorandum and from becoming one step closer to being the controlling owner of the Denver Broncos.”

He also indicates in his court petition that Annabel Bowlen may have insisted that a future successor should be one of her children and therefore had some part in eliminating Bowlen Wallace’s position with the Broncos.

While the older daughter doesn’t go that far, she does reiterate the claim made in the lawsuit that her father specifically told advisors and trustees close to him that he “did not want Annabel involved in the management of the team.”

But what if Bowlen Wallace did become the new franchise owner — what are her designs for this team?

“I want to preserve and protect my father’s legacy and move this team forward,” she told MHR. “He wanted this team to stay in the Bowlen family. He provided incredible mentorship to me, and I owe him that.”

*Editor’s post-script: We know that many fans will be upset we are covering this story on the ownership debacle during the week that Pat Bowlen is being considered for — and should finally earn — induction to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. We did not randomly decide to run these stories without serious consideration and discussion beforehand. For a brief timeline of the story’s evolution, this process really began last fall when the local media coverage seemed to present only part of the story. We had a contact to reach Beth Bowlen Wallace, so we followed through with an interview via email. Upon receiving answers to our questions and outlining a series to shed light on the issue, we felt it important to try and do a similar interview with Brittany Bowlen. She declined the opportunity earlier this week, citing the Hall of Fame; we hope she will agree to an interview in the future. Knowing Roger Goodell was speaking this week, we chose to hold off until we could add what he had to say. Since Wednesday’s unsurprising news, we debated over and over the best time to release these stories. Bowlen Wallace had no role in the timeline for publishing the series. It is our firm belief that publishing news on the ownership struggles in no way bears negatively on Pat Bowlen’s legacy as Broncos owner and in an indirect way shows just how much the franchise misses his Hall-of-Fame-worthy leadership. Stories about the owners are about the Trust and the children, not about Bowlen’s tireless efforts to improve this team and create the championship culture he did. Given the commissioner’s comments about the situation, the issue is timely and newsworthy. Separately — and without mention of the ownership issues — we will celebrate our beloved owner and his many accomplishments to make this the top franchise it is.