When Edgar Kaiser Jr. purchased the Broncos in February 1981, for $29 million, Phipps brothers Gerald and Allan demanded one principal provision in the contract.
The football franchise couldn’t be resold to Colorado’s wealthiest man — Marvin Davis.
The oil and gas exploration magnate had fleeced the Phipps family on a mansion and a massive piece of land south of Denver called Highlands Ranch.
After being unable to buy the Broncos or the Oakland A’s, Davis instead acquired 20th Century Fox studio and Pebble Beach Golf Club.
In March 1984, Kaiser did a a deal with fellow Canadian Pat Bowlen, selling 60.4 percent for $78 million.
In 2001 the NFL franchise was valued at $600 million. In 2020 Forbes Magazine approximates the Broncos to be worth $3.2 billion, ranked 11th in the league.
The Bros. Phipps paid less than $1 million in the 1960s. Bob Howsam received the original American Football League team for no entry fee in 1959.
The cost of doing business in professional football has risen astronomically over the past six decades.
A Broncos’ sale is a genuine option.
Many piglets would be at the trough from both sides.
Bowlen, who died last year, left wife Annabel and eight children by two marriages and another relationship. Older brother John still possesses a non-voting minority interest (less than 30 percent) even though he sold a share of his investment to the Broncos in 2019. Younger brother Bill and sister Marybeth got out in the 1990s.
The Pat Bowlen trust, under a family feud oft-delayed court case because of lawsuit filed by the two oldest daughters, states that if one of the children is not identified as the heir to ownership, the franchise could be sold. Daughter Brittany Bowlen-Kim is being groomed by the three trustees to succeed her father in four-five years. Yet, trustee and CEO Joe Ellis acknowledged at the end of the 2019 season that if the family can’t agree completely to back Brittany, “a sale remains a possibility I think — given the circumstances we’re in.’’
As the Broncos have foundered for a fifth consecutive season, the wails beyond Dove Valley for fresh proprietorship have been amplified.
Who are the candidates?
Billionaires in and outside Colorado, or an ownership group that, based on new NFL legislation, must have a sole franchise commander, as Mr. B was until being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
Two former Broncos quarterbacks — John Elway and Peyton Manning — have been popular choices for successors, but Elway, backed by rich friends, has taken a severe hit with the team’s failures. The Broncos were 50-14 and reached the Super Bowl twice during the Elway-Manning years, but has a 31-45 record and no postseason since.
A Peyton-Eli-Cooper-Archie Manning ownership is very improbable because of the family’s bond to New Orleans, and $3 billion would be too steep.
Ten billionaires who have been on the Forbes 400 list live in Colorado, and several have sports connections. Phil Anschutz, whose Clarity Media Group owns The Denver Gazette and The Gazette in Colorado Springs, is owner of the Los Angeles Kings and the L.A. Galaxy and a minority Lakers partner. In the past he indicated no interest in an NFL franchise.
Cable mogul John Malone is chairman and largest shareholder of Liberty Media, which owns the Atlanta Braves and Formula 1 Racing. Malone couldn’t be a crossover owner.
Pat Stryker, a staunch Colorado State Rams football supporter, has donated tens of millions to the school and its athlete department, but she seems to have no curiosity in regard to the Broncos.
Thomas Bailey of Aspen is into horse breeding and fly fishing, but not football, and Gary Magness is manager of and participant with his off-road truck racing team. Neither figures into the Broncos’ future. Nor does Charlie Ergen, the founder of Dish Network. His company has been involved in sports broadcasting, but recently has deemphasized those associations.
Kenneth Tuchman, who once worked in a surfboard shop, and MacMillan brothers Cargill, of Boulder, and William, of Englewood, haven’t shown any proclivity to procure the Broncos.
However, the NFL does compile an inventory of potential owners and promoted David Tepper as the Panthers’ purchaser in 2018 for a record $2.275 mil.
In 1981 the league recommended Kaiser to the Phipps brothers, and the transaction was completed in a few days.
Two reputable sources with ties to the Bowlens and NFL have told me that when a family member asked league executives about a prospective sale, the response was that several parties who don’t live in Colorado have investigated potential Broncos’ ownership.
The strongest assumption, though, is, because of capital gains taxes and the upcoming insane income increases for NFL broadcasting rights, the Broncos will belong to the Bowlens for the foreseeable future.