The Denver Broncos have entered the 2019 offseason with a host of issues to address. Some of them, like replacing a failed head coach or seeking a long term solution at QB, are entirely necessary. Others go well beyond football, like the increasingly nasty ownership squabble. But there’s a third category, too: issues that could have been avoided, or resolved long ago. And it’s time to highlight one of those and call out the man who should have led it to a resolution a long time ago.
The Broncos have held the right to locate & do business with a stadium naming rights sponsor for the facility currently known as Broncos Stadium at Mile High for nearly two and a half years, and we’re no closer now to a resolution than we were back then.
Rewind the clock to 2011. Invesco, the original naming rights sponsor of the stadium, decided to shift its marketing strategy. Invesco did so in part by selling the naming rights to the Broncos’ home field that it had held since 2001. That deal, originally signed with a 20-year term and worth $6 million per year, then passed on to the Colorado-headquartered retail company Sports Authority. They even had an extension in the works that would have added another 15 years to the deal’s remaining 10 year life.
And then, just five years later, Sports Authority folded and the fate of the stadium’s naming rights became a major topic of the Broncos’ 2016 offseason.
In August of 2016, a short term solution was found which allowed the Broncos to purchase the naming rights of the stadium from the Metropolitan Football Stadium District for $3,601,890. From there, it was in the Broncos’ hands to find a new corporate partner to sponsor the stadium.
Broncos Country, of course, clamored for the team to take this opportunity to restore the stadium’s rightful name- Mile High Stadium- even if only temporarily. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.
What did happen was a whole lot of nothing. Despite Sports Authority’s closure and liquidation in 2016, for nearly two years there was little news and, at least in the public’s view, even less progress. The issue was apparently pushed onto a back burner and was in large part nearly forgotten by many Broncos fans. And then at last, in June 2016, the name was changed. The defunct Sports Authority signage finally came down and the stadium became known as Broncos Stadium at Mile High, complete with some rather iffy new signage.
And then, with progress finally in hand ... more nothing. Despite having had nearly two years to approach potential partners and having multiple months before the regular season to get a deal done, the Broncos didn’t move forward with a new deal. Heck, there haven’t even been much in the way of rumors of potential partners, much less anything substantial.
And it’s not like the regular season is necessarily a major obstacle to getting this done. It’s a function of the front office, with Joe Ellis and the business side of operations responsible for it. It’s not something that’s on John Elway’s plate, nor is it the responsibility of anyone else on the football side of operations.
And yet 12 months since it was announced that the Sports Authority eyesores were coming down and seven months since that actually happened, there’s still been utter silence on the new stadium sponsor side of things. We’re now soon to arrive at the 29 months mark since the Broncos assumed control of the stadium naming rights, with no idea how much longer this will drag out.
For comparison, consider the Vikings’s new home: U.S. Bank Stadium. They broke ground on it in December 2013 & it opened in July 2016. That was 31 months to go from bare lot to fully armed & operational football stadium, naming rights sponsor and all. And after nearly that long, Joe Ellis & company still don’t have a new deal in place. What in the world is going on here??
Well, so what? Why does it even matter?
A. Because it’s alarming that this relatively routine process is completely stalled in the first place.
B. Because there are other significant issues with Joe Ellis lately as well. There’s the debate over succession of controlling ownership of the team and the Bowlen Trust, of which Ellis is one of three trustees, has been unaccountably partisan against one Bowlen heir and in favor of another. And then there’s the recent news of Ellis blocking John Elway from hiring Mike Shanahan back in 2016, along with yesterday’s revelation that Ellis is meeting with at least some of the head coach candidates privately despite publicly stating that the hiring decision is John Elway’s.
C. Because it’s draining money out of the team’s pockets, and not chump change either. That $6M per year from Invesco/Sports Authority was being split approximately in half, with half going to the Broncos and half going to the stadium authority for the facility’s upkeep and improvement. That’s $3M/year in revenue that’s not coming into the team’s coffers anymore. And since the stadium doesn’t magically not need maintenance and improvement, and the Broncos happen to own the naming rights just now, it’s actually costing the team a significant chunk of the other $3M/year in addition to the lost revenue.
Round it up to 30 months for neater math, & the lack of a new stadium sponsor has potentially set the Broncos back as much as $15M since they acquired the naming rights.
That $15M may be only a fraction of what the team spends on its roster each year, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important. Joe Ellis has a responsibility both as team president and as a trustee to steward Pat Bowlen’s investment in the team wisely, and it’s very hard to see how the continued lack of a resolution could qualify as wise stewardship.
Obviously, there could be much happening behind the scenes that we fans simply don’t know about. But it sure seems like this is an issue that shouldn’t still be plaguing a team that’s saddled with more important worries this year.