In a massive turn of events, the Denver Broncos may finally get a resolution to the fiasco that is the team’s ownership situation; only it may not come in the way that it was originally planned.
Regardless of the late Pat Bowlen's intentions of passing down ownership of the team to one of his children via the Bowlen Trust, the NFL appears to be making a power move thanks in part to a new policy regarding minimum equity stakes and team control.
According to a report from Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, who cited Ben Fischer of Sports Business Daily, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell now has the authority and power of levying fines up to $10 million per year to teams that are not in compliance with the policy and up to $2 million per year for individual owners as well.
The policy states that one person must hold at least the minimum amount of equity in the team and also possess final say in all team matters, including being the final voice when it comes to league matters in which the team has to vote, such as competition committee rule changes.
The Broncos and Tennessee Titans are the only two teams not currently in compliance with this policy, meaning that they both could be fined by the league up to $10 million within the next year.
As we all know, the Broncos are under control of the Pat Bowlen Trust, a three-person entity that was empowered with designating one of Mr. Bowlen’s seven children as his successor after his passing in June of 2019. Within the trust, a list of expectations was laid out by the Broncos' late owner, designed to prepare the eventual successor for life as an owner in the NFL.
As it stands right now, there is an ongoing lawsuit between the trust and a legal team for Beth Bowlen Wallace as to who will be taking control of the team here in the near future.
Seemingly chosen by the trust as the eventual owner was Pat’s daughter Brittany Bowlen, who has checked off almost every task laid out by Mr. Bowlen when he enacted the trust back in 2009. However, his oldest daughter, Bowlen Wallace, and her uncle Bill Bowlen, believe that Pat was already showing signs of Alzheimer’s Disease, which took his life in 2019, well before he signed the estate-planning documents, arguing that he wasn't in a competent state of mind to make such decisions.
Bowlen Wallace and Bill also believe that Beth herself has already achieved every task articulated by her late father in the trust and that she should be named the owner.
It’s a sloppy situation at this point, and litigation could go on for the next several years. A court date that was scheduled at the beginning of September was pushed back until after the beginning of 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There is not a known date for that session at this time.
Because of this, the Broncos could be placed between a rock and a hard place. Either the team would need to settle the ownership dispute quickly or be forced to pay a fine of up to eight figures every year until the successor is named.
Given the ongoing lawsuit and deadline to name a singular person with “final say” on any and every proposal that needs to be voted on, the team may be forced to sell. That was a possibility to begin with, as the rest of the Bowlen children have to sign off ostensibly on who that majority shareholder devolves to in the first place.
“It is an option, and we’ve told the beneficiaries that,” Broncos CEO Joe Ellis said of selling team back in December of 2019. “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. 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.”
One possible option as a buyer would be Robert F. Smith, a multi-billionaire tech investor from the Denver area that has been floated around as having an interest in buying the team. Though nothing concrete has been reported about said interest, a big money investor in the team could be a big benefit to the Broncos organization, one that has had purported cash flow issues over the last few years due to the Bowlen family disputes.
With no outside money being invested into the team, some player contract negotiations have been impacted because there simply isn’t enough cash on hand to compete in the realm of signing bonuses. This is possibly one of the reasons Denver couldn’t come to a long-term agreement with veteran safety Justin Simmons earlier this year, who is playing this season under the franchise tag.
Regardless, the Broncos ownership situation needs to come to a head and quickly. Whether the team is sold or the litigation between Bowlen Wallace and the Bowlen Trust comes to an end, the sooner this whole situation is figured out, the better.