The end of 2019 brought a lot of uncertainties into focus.
The Broncos have a potential quarterback of the future in Drew Lock.
The team and its GM are very happy with first-year head coach Vic Fangio and the upward trajectory of the team.
John Elway is sticking around and he’s definitely keeping Von Miller around - with high hopes of keeping Justin Simmons for sure and trying to sign back a few more important veteran free agents.
But the future ownership of the Denver Broncos - while more clear - is still quite murky.
As the Pat Bowlen Trust - created in 2013 and led by current Broncos’ president/CEO Joe Ellis - continues to operate the team in the absence of a named successor, the final say could come via court order following a September trial date.
Pat, who owned 77 percent of the team at the time of his death, had wished for one of his children to be the eventual owner of the Denver Broncos. His death last June has pushed the naming of a new owner to the forefront of franchise business as the NFL does not wish to have team ownership unsettled.
But for fans paying even the slightest bit of attention, settling the Broncos ownership has been anything but easy.
The PB Trust’s anointed choice - Brittany Bowlen, daughter from Pat’s second marriage - rejoined the team in December to begin finishing a requirement laid out by the trust that the future owner have a minimum of five years experience working with the team and/or the NFL.
Ellis noted in his end-of-season presser earlier this week that “while he’s not going to be rushing her to any owners’ meetings,” Brittany has been getting to know the inner-workings of the Broncos and most importantly, the people in the building in her new role as vice president of strategic initiatives.
“She’s working on about four or five different projects from stadium development to the fan experience to getting some involvement with the franchise on an international level,” he said, adding that Brittany has described her role as “drinking from a fire hose.”.
“I think that the biggest thing for her is to make sure that she came in and she earned the respect of everybody, got to know people and they got to know her,” Ellis said. “This first month she’s done a terrific job of that. I expect that to continue. She has distinguished herself as the one child that we’re looking at to possibly take over her father’s role.”
“She’s got a really good future ahead of her."— Denver Broncos (@Broncos) December 31, 2019
Joe Ellis says Brittany Bowlen ‘has distinguished herself’ as the potential successor to late Hall of Fame Owner Pat Bowlen, discusses future team ownership » https://t.co/71gGf7PI0B pic.twitter.com/WB28l8Pxje
But the wrinkle in this is that Brittany is not the only child seeking the role.
Beth Bowlen Wallace - daughter from Pat’s first marriage, who began her bid as successor nearly two years ago and just before the Trust announced it was grooming Brittany - still hopes to be in consideration as future owner. And this desire to be the named successor has prompted her and her uncle - Pat’s younger brother William - to file several lawsuits against the Trust, arguing the trustees have not followed the wishes of their father/brother.
A Sept. 2 trial date in Arapahoe County District Court is set for a potentially final showdown among the Bowlen children.
But whatever happens in court, Ellis believes it will be imperative that all seven of the Bowlen children - who will each have a non-controlling percentage of ownership - accept and support the chosen sibling.
And if they cannot, the Trust may look at selling the team to an outside owner.
“[Selling the team] is an option, and we’ve told the beneficiaries that because if Brittany were to succeed and take over for her father, everybody else is going to have to sign off on that, most likely,” Ellis said. “That may not be a requirement, but it’s going to be necessary, I think, moving forward from a trustee viewpoint. That’s why a sale remains a possibility, I think, given the circumstances we’re in.”
Ellis believes Pat would be disappointed that the choice of his successor has come down to a legal battle, but after six years of operating the Trust, he says he’s not surprised by anything.
“In terms of being surprised that all this has come to what it has come to, which is three separate lawsuits, frankly after six years of letters and communications with different sets of lawyers, I’m not surprised at all,” the CEO said. “[Pat] is not here to speak to it. I think he’d be disappointed. But that’s what I think. It’s not what I know. He set his trust up with three, independent non-family trustees and it hasn’t gone the way certain people want it to go, I guess. But I think he’d be disappointed by what he sees right now.”
But while the team, the NFL and the family awaits the trial next fall, Brittany is continuing to be groomed within the organization.
And Ellis believes it is on the right track.
“There is going to need to be some cooperation from everybody on the family for that to happen, there is no question about that,” Ellis said of Brittany ultimately becoming owner. “But so far, really good. Everything that people told me about Brittany, whether it was at the NFL, at Duke or at McKinsey [& Company], her supervisors, her peer employees — it’s one month, a lot of work to be done, but so far everything kind of rings true and I’m really pleased. It’s really nice, frankly, to have her in the building. So great.”