Seven years ago this week Pat Bowlen transferred control of the Denver Broncos to his Trust and the trust of three close associates.
Almost 19 months later, a week before Mr. B’s 72 birthday, the Broncos, at Super Bowl 50, won their third World Championship.
Bowlen died on June 13, 2019, of a pulmonary embolism and complications from a long bout with Alzheimer’s, a horrific disease both his father and mother suffered through. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on August 3 two years ago.
The Broncos’ owner since 1984 would be miserable about the Broncos’ misfortunes the past five seasons and, even more so, the feud within his family and with those trustees.
Pat would be optimistic after a lawsuit filed by his two oldest daughters against the trustees finally has been dismissed and because the football team finally seems to be back on track before training camp begins in 10 days.
But, what would Bowlen believe about the franchise’s future?
In good health, he wouldn’t have sold. “I’ll die with my boots on owning the Broncos,’’ he told me in 1999.
But, in bad health in 2009, he revealed publicly and worriedly for the first time in an interview with me: “I have short-term memory loss.’’
In that conversation, I asked if he had chosen a family successor: “My middle daughter (Brittany) is the only one who has shown any interest, but she’s young.’’
So, it seems, the only choices for the Broncos are Brittany eventually assumes the principal ownership position, or the Broncos are sold to an outside person/group.
Will the seven children of Bowlen’s first wife, Sally Parker and his widow, Annabel Bowlen, ultimately prefer to own or sell the Broncos?
If the franchise were sold today for its $3.2 billion value (estimated by Forbes Magazine), the five daughters and the two sons each would collect approximately $357 million (pre-taxes). The trust holds 78 percent of the ownership, with John Bowlen, Pat’s brother, the minority, non-voting partner, who would receive more than $700 million.
The Bowlen brothers (Pat, John and Bill), sister Mary Jagger and their father and mother (Paul and Arvella) bought a majority stake in the franchise in ’84 for $78 million. Mary sold her share to Pat in 1999, and Bill his in 2002. When the elder Mrs. Bowlen died in 2006, her 20 percent was split between Pat and John.
Why was the lawsuit first vacated, then dismissed, and what happens going forward?
Sisters Amie Klemmer and Beth Bowlen Wallace sued trustees Joe Ellis (Broncos CEO), Rich Slivka (Broncos general counsel) and Mary Kelly (who was Pat Bowlen’s personal attorney), charging that their father was not in full capacity mentally, and was under undue influence, when he changed his trust for the third time in 2009.
Wallace and Klemmer just asked for the dismissal of the case, and the trustees obviously did not oppose.
Arapahoe district court judge John E. Scipione ruled that the estate documents and amendments are “valid, enforceable and reflect Patrick D. Bowlen’s intent and will’’ and found that the trustees “have the full and complete authority to administer the PDB Trust . . . .”
The complainant side, which (full disclosure) was considering serving a subpoena for my testimony, ultimately decided not to drag Pat Bowlen’s medical problems through a four-week trial. The trustees contested private disclosures and felt the suit was irresponsible. According to two knowledgeable sources, a compromise was reached when the sisters’ attorneys realized they would not prevail.
Sources said the seven children will have more communication with the trustees and, in due course, but not soon, a decision will be made about a possible potential sale. At least a 4-3 majority currently would vote to keep the franchise all in the family. Although Klemmer and Wallace desire that the team be sold, Brittany and sisters Annabel (on the dean’s list at the University of Colorado at Denver) and Christiana (who attends Loyola Marymount University) and oldest brother Patrick III (coordinator of facilities at the stadium) favor retaining the Broncos, while the wishes of John Jr., who is in exile from the Bowlens as the result of legal and social media issues over the years, are unknown.
Ellis, Wallace’s most formidable adversary who fired her years ago from Broncos employment, already has announced he plans to retire as CEO when his contract ends in March of ‘22. He probably will stay on the trustee board. John Elway, president of football operations, is expected to leave when his five-year deal also ends then. A change in the executive pyramid may alter the family’s opinion, although Brittany still must serve for at least three additional years in various administrative positions before she could be named the operational owner and NFL conduit.
A comparison is with the Chiefs. When original owner Lamar Hunt died in 2006, his three sons and a daughter, who jointly inherited the franchise, elected Clark Hunt chairman.)
The NFL possesses a list of billionaires and partnerships who want to buy the Broncos. Perhaps Peyton Manning could return with a new alliance.
Nevertheless, for the moment, Pat Bowlen and his everlasting legacy would be grateful that the bad blood of the bickering Broncos has subsided somewhat before the season.