It would be an understatement to say the Broncos’ ownership debacle has been a mess. Even calling it a “hot mess” seems too simplistic for its level of complicated developments and internal family feuds.
But despite a mile-high mountain’s worth of legal battles and family entanglements regarding the future ownership of the Denver Broncos since late owner Pat Bowlen officially relinquished power in 2012 (though didn’t make it public for two more years), some clarity appears to be emerging.
Late Wednesday afternoon, Arapahoe County District Court Judge John E. Scipione dismissed the 2019 lawsuit filed by Beth Bowlen Wallace and Amie Klemmer, Bowlen’s two oldest daughters.
The daughters’ suit against the three-person “Pat Bowlen Trust” - a trust designated to make ownership decisions until an heir or new owner was named - argued Bowlen had not been properly advised when he updated his estate-planning documents in 2009. The sisters claimed their father’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis prevented him from understanding what he was signing. The trustees repeatedly denied such allegations.
In his decision, the judge said the court “finds that the 2009 Estate Planning Documents are valid, enforceable, and reflect Patrick D. Bowlen’s intent and will.”
The lawyer representing Bowlen Wallace and Klemmer filed the motion to dismiss, but it’s unclear if a settlement may have prompted the action.
What is clear is that a major hurdle to ending the legal standoff between the trustees and two Bowlen children vying for power is gone, and speculation is high that the team will be sold rather than handed over to one of the seven Bowlen heirs.
The lawsuit filed by Pat Bowlen's eldest two daughters, Amie Klemmer and Beth Bowlen Wallace, against the trustees running the Denver Broncos has been dismissed.— Nicki Jhabvala (@NickiJhabvala) July 14, 2021
Unclear if there was a settlement out of court, but it seems quite plausible that the team could be sold. pic.twitter.com/AsIYu9Rr1i
Joe Ellis, Broncos’ president and also one-third of the Pat Bowlen Trust, did not give any hints at the direction the franchise will go with ownership, but he did reiterate the interest to resolve the ownership question sooner rather than later.
“Regarding the future of the Denver Broncos’ organization, our No. 1 priority remains a timely, responsible and orderly determination of ownership,” Ellis told 9NEWS. “There are no changes with the operation of the team, which is completely focused on a successful 2021 season.”
Neither Bowlen Wallace, Klemmer or the lawyers involved commented on Wednesday’s action but the two daughters had indicated last winter in a statement an interest in selling the team.
“Watching these past few seasons has been extremely painful and we continue to see no other way to restore the franchise for our fans but through a transition of ownership of the Denver Broncos,” it said.
It’s telling that, in light of this news that the Broncos aren’t shouting Brittany Bowlen’s name from the rooftops. After propping her up with such a heavy hand in the past, there is no mention of her in any of this. https://t.co/apvwHtTAFh— MileHighReport (@MileHighReport) July 14, 2021
Ownership debacle mini-recap
As the offseason for the Broncos began in January, and John Elway announced he was stepping down as GM and Joe Ellis announced he will not stay on as president/CEO when his contract is up the end of March 2022, the ownership debacle came under the NFL’s - and the public’s - microscope once again.
Here is a mini-recap of those sordid highlights over the past three-and-a-half years:
A three-person trust was created in March 2009, along with Pat Bowlen’s will, and general power of attorney was granted to Ellis. This replaced a previous trust established in the early 90s and last amended in 2005.
Bowlen officially resigned in 2014 after 30 years of ownership and the Pat Bowlen Trust takes over operations.
In May 2018, Beth Bowlen Wallace announced her interest in ownership and argued she was a better fit according to criteria set forth by the trustees.
Bowlen Wallace and Amie Klemmer, joined by Pat’s younger brother Bill, filed a lawsuit to contest the trustees’ current mode of operation for selecting a new controlling owner. The latest in that legal saga was dismissed this week.
Trustees had long favored Brittany Bowlen-Kim, daughter from Pat’s second marriage with Annabel, as the successor once she gained enough experience in the Broncos front office. Bowlen-Kim has been working as vice president of strategic initiatives since December 2020.
Currently Ellis and fellow trustees, team counsel Rich Slivka and Denver attorney Mary Kelly, could choose one of the seven Bowlen children as the controlling owner or sell the team to another buyer.
Although the trustees had been grooming Brittany Bowlen to take over and fulfill her father’s wishes of one of his children eventually becoming controlling owner, Ellis indicated last year that a majority of the seven Bowlen children had to agree to that heir - and consensus among the children has remained absent.
Bowlen Wallace, Pat’s daughter from his first marriage, first expressed interest in becoming owner in 2018 and went to court to fight for her right to be considered by the trustees.
That lawsuit - delayed several times due to COVID-19 and the one most recently dismissed - was likely the final hurdle to clarifying the ownership picture (*editor’s note: for an extensive investigation into this messy episode in Broncos lore, I highly recommend Nicki Jhabvala’s “Family Feud” report in The Athletic).
There is much speculation currently on what the Broncos will do now that the Trust has complete control, but selling the team seems more and more imminent. Dan Kaplan of The Athletic reported last month that buyers have approached the trustees. Forbes values the Broncos franchise at $3.2 billion.
Just who is interested in buying the team invites even more speculation - everyone from billionaire-turned-space-enthusiast Jeff Bezos to Colorado’s richest man, investor Phillip Anschutz, to Broncos Country’s favorite adopted son Peyton Manning.
Asked by @MikeKlis about possibly being a part of the Broncos organization, Peyton Manning doesn't necessarily rule it out. Says he takes things day-to-day and year-to-year. Says he definitely interested in what happens with the ownership situation. #Broncos— George Stoia III (@GeorgeStoia) July 14, 2021
Your preference for future owner?
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Still hoping for a Bowlen...
Someone with deep pockets who loves football and is willing to spend on players (like Bowlen)
Peyton Manning and that’s my final offer
Any billionaire not named Jeff Bezos, Stan Kroenke or Howard Graham Buffett