Editor’s note: This is an exclusive three-part series regarding future ownership of the Denver Broncos. Here is Part 1, this Part 2 and here is Part 3. In the first story, we laid out the background — what is the state of the franchise, who is involved and why should fans care? We also gave some initial background on Beth Bowlen Wallace and what has motivated her decisions. Brittany Bowlen declined the request to be interviewed, saying the focus right now should only be on her dad’s selection as a finalist to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
In this second story from our exclusive interview in December with the second-oldest daughter of Pat Bowlen, we explore how the franchise is currently managed by the three-person Pat Bowlen Trust led by Joe Ellis, who is also the president and CEO of the Broncos, and how Bowlen Wallace envisions involvement with the franchise.
The last two seasons have made it abundantly clear the Denver Broncos miss Pat Bowlen’s leadership. His second-oldest daughter, Beth Bowlen Wallace, wants to change that.
Bowlen Wallace announced last spring that she was interested in fulfilling her father’s wish for a Bowlen heir to take over the team when he was no longer able due to effects of Alzheimer’s disease. Her announcement was met with immediate resistance by the interim controlling owners — trustees to the Pat D. Bowlen Trust.
The trustees — led by Broncos CEO Joe Ellis — argued Bowlen Wallace pursuing ownership was “contrary to Pat Bowlen’s long-standing succession plan.” The other two members of the Trust — comprising non-family members — include team general counsel Rich Slivka and Denver attorney Mary Kelly.
“Pat did not designate Beth as a trustee or appoint her to a leadership position, nor did he instruct the trustees to specifically mentor her. He made it clear that his children were not automatically entitled to a role with the team and that they would have to earn that opportunity through their accomplishments, qualifications and character,” Ellis said in a May 31 statement. “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.”
Bowlen Wallace disputes ‘unqualified’ claim
But Bowlen Wallace disputes both the sentiment that her father did not intend for her to seek ownership, as well as the argument that she is not qualified.
“My father always encouraged me to obtain the education and professional experience necessary to garner the respect of others,” she told MHR. “He encouraged me to strengthen my relationships with business influencers and league owners. He wanted me to be in a leadership position at the club and expected me to have that opportunity. He told me ‘you are a lot like your old man’ — a statement I still regard as the highest compliment, and ‘keep doing what you’re doing to prepare to sit in this chair.’”
Bowlen Wallace has been in the professional workforce for more than 25 years, including in executive leadership positions as well as experience managing and running a business.
“Through my philanthropic efforts, I have strengthened my relationship with business leaders and community influencers throughout the Rocky Mountain region,” she said. “Most importantly, I was mentored by the best owner in the business, Pat Bowlen. He believed in me, and I believe in that.”
Bowlen Wallace asserts her father and Ellis sat down together to design a role for her with the Broncos back in 2012 so she could fulfill the NFL experience requirement. Bowlen Wallace was appointed director of special projects, where she was in charge of, among other things, funding and development for the Ring of Fame Plaza outside Broncos Stadium.
When she told the Broncos in the spring of 2015 she would be going to law school to fulfill the education criteria for becoming owner, Bowlen Wallace said her position was terminated the next day.
“The timing of the elimination of my position is suspect,” she told Mile High Report. “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. That 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.”
Bowlen Wallace added that the trustees gave her no explanation, other than “the position had no value.”
“I would argue that any position I held had value if it was in accordance with fulfilling my father’s wishes that one of his heirs take over,” Bowlen Wallace said. “Given that the trustees’ authored the criteria, this action made me more concerned about their motivations.”
In his statement last spring, Ellis said the trustees had “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.”
Believing that the trustees were not going to give her a fair opportunity, Bowlen Wallace went public with her announcement to seek ownership.
“I was concerned about the direction this team was headed,” Bowlen Wallace told MHR. “It was not my intent to circumvent the Trust. At the time of my announcement, I had fulfilled the trustees’ criteria. They were not interested in moving the process forward. There was little transparency, which is so critical with trusts and estates. I was becoming concerned and felt it was time to step up and announce my desires for my father’s sake.”
Trust prefers Brittany Bowlen
Brittany Bowlen, 29-year-old daughter to Pat and Annabel Bowlen, was presented by the Trust as the likely child to eventually take over the franchise once she met qualifications for controlling ownership.
She indicated during a fundraising event for Global Down Syndrome Foundation last October that she was indeed looking forward to “one day” becoming owner.
”You know what, right now, the Denver Broncos have an owner — it’s my father,” Brittany Bowlen told the media. “Unfortunately, he can’t be involved in the day-to-day operations of the team. I do have ambitions and goals to one day become the controlling owner of the Denver Broncos, and I’ll keep working towards those goals. I’m not there yet, but I really believe I can get there.”
Interesting that Brittany Bowlen, viewed as clear favorite to become Pat Bowlen’s successor, has not commented on today’s fireworks. Perhaps she’s making a statement by not making a statement. #Understatedlikeherdad. #9sports— Mike Klis (@MikeKlis) June 1, 2018
Ellis noted last summer that Brittany Bowlen had taken several steps to fulfill the Trust’s criteria, including finishing her MBA at Duke and pursuing strategic management experience at McKinsey & Company in Denver.
“She’s excited about that ... We’ll see where it goes from there,” Ellis said. “We’re not anointing anybody or anything like that, but she certainly has expressed an interest and she knows it’s going to take some time for her to get ready. She’s not ready yet. She’s admitted that to us, obviously. We’ll see where it goes, but she has expressed an interest.”
Following the end of the Broncos season, John Elway and Ellis gave their annual after-season news conference, Ellis reiterated the Trust’s interest in Brittany Bowlen as owner down the road.
“I don’t know what the near future is exactly,” Ellis said. “As I said back in July, she finished her MBA at Duke and is now working for McKinsey, a terrific global consulting firm. But there’s going to be a role for her, and we don’t know when that will be. It’s going to be sort of on her timetable as well as on our conversations with her. She’s taking a lot of good steps here moving forward.”
Brittany Bowlen has completed just shy of a year of the required five years in a senior NFL or Broncos management position, and Bowlen Wallace was on her way before having her position terminated in 2015.
We asked Bowlen Wallace if the Trust’s choice of Brittany Bowlen could be motivated by the fact that it would likely mean longer ownership for the Trust and could be a reason she was terminated.
Bowlen Wallace responded, “I could see that.”
Brittany Bowlen said her dad is stoic, has strong fight for life. Said he had a lucid moment in past year. “My dad said what are you doing with your life?” Brittany said she was in business school working hard. “He said OK start today because I want you to be important.”#9sports— Mike Klis (@MikeKlis) February 1, 2019
However, long-time sportswriter Woody Paige stated in a recent article about Johnny Bowlen’s latest social media meltdown that Pat Bowlen had revealed to him during an interview in 2010 that he “was suffering from ‘short-term memory loss’ and that the young Brittany was his only child who had expressed interest in being the owner someday and was his first choice.”
Pat Bowlen’s choice of successor unclear
Bowlen Wallace said talking to her father about potential ownership was a tough dialogue in recent years because it meant he was no longer capable of being the owner.
“The conversations about succession made us both emotional because we had to acknowledge the reality of his prognosis,” she said. “I was not accustomed to seeing my father vulnerable. I wanted to protect his dignity, so I would encourage him that he wasn’t going anywhere, and honestly that made us both feel better. There is no one I want more to be in the role of controlling owner other than my father. Unfortunately, that is no longer possible.”
Bowlen Wallace says her primary goal as franchise owner is to maintain her father’s competitive spirit and shrewd leadership.
Most importantly, she noted, her father held people accountable.
“My dad is intense, fair and competitive,” Bowlen Wallace said. “He has amazing perception. He understands what his strengths are and what might be perceived as weaknesses. He hired people to complement that understanding and stayed out of their way. He would not ask them, ‘What can you do for me?’ Rather he’d ask, ‘What can I do for you to support your success?’”
Bowlen Wallace noted that her dad’s approach allowed him to get the best out of the people who worked for him because they bought into a culture where they were “respected, encouraged and felt a genuine sense of belonging.”
The second-oldest daughter believes that accountability has been missing in Denver since her father stepped away.
“My focus and priority is to protect and preserve his legacy,” she said. “For all the support, mentorship and, most importantly, love he has given me, he deserves nothing less.”
So Bowlen Wallace says she has one goal in mind as she pursues her right to ownership — “restoring my father’s culture of winning.”