Could Ownership Be A Part Of John Elway’s New Contract?

We’ve been talking about the Broncos’ ownership in comments the past two days, so it’s only appropriate that this article arises from Nicki Jhabvala:

“(Elway) may be a unique situation because of the ownership challenges,” [former agent Joel] Corry said. “One of the holdups might be him angling for some sort of ownership or a piece of the team.”


Bowlen is still the owner of the team, but the Broncos have been placed in a family trust operated by three trustees: Ellis, team counsel Rich Slivka and Denver attorney Mary Kelly. The trust is intended to serve as the vehicle to hand controlling ownership to Bowlen’s seven children. Each child will have equal stake as a beneficiary of the trust, but the trustees are tasked with appointing the ownership representative among the seven kids.


But consider the trustees also have the authority to sell the team in full and in part. Ellis, as president and CEO, has the power to extend Elway’s contract. And Ellis and the other two trustees have the authority to push to give him a piece of the team — should that even be something they and Elway are considering.

Before you proceed to my comments beyond the fold, also refresh yourself by reading this excellent 2014 article from David Migoya on the subject.

What do I see as the big detail in Jhabvala’s piece? I was not aware that Ellis and the other two trustees had the power to sell the team in part. From what I had inferred from Migoya’s article, if the trustees authorized a sale, it was going to be for the entire team. But if the power to sell in part is in option, then that gives Ellis in particular much flexibility to negotiate a deal with Elway.

It’s important to note that Jhabvala does not cite that ownership is in play, stating that “[i]t’s unclear whether Elway is asking for a piece.” So discussion of this is mainly relying on Corry, a highly respected former agent in the media.  But since we’ve had our own speculation on the subject, this provides a good opportunity to merge the two.

Here’s a review of some of the points in play discussed.

Does Elway have the assets to purchase even a small slice of the Broncos?

John Elway’s net worth has been estimated by CheatSheet at $145 million. While that clearly makes him a 1 percenter, one needs to be well into the 0.01 percent to enter NFL ownership territory. If Forbes is correct about the Broncos’ market value being $2.4 billion (that’s a Carl Sagan B), everything that Elway has would only amount to 6% of the team.

Could Ellis give Elway a hometown discount with ownership? Does he even have the authority to do so under the trust? Would it even be legal given any possible tax consequences? Suffice to say, there are many questions about such a maneuver, and that’s why the wisdom of lawyers are so valuable.

More questions: could Elway form some sort of ownership group with the Bowlen children that gives him the authority to be the controlling owner? Could he pull in external investors, as Migoya suggested? And if those external investors are wealthier than Elway, why would they want to play second fiddle to him when they might have a shot at controlling ownership on their own?

Any sale would have to be approved by the NFL…or would it?

All of the above ideas would ostensibly hinge on one important factor: any sale of a team has to meet NFL approval–or in other words, approval of the other owners who would be inducting one of their own into their exclusive fold.

The good news for Elway is that he should be someone that the NFL holds in high regard, as one of the greater players and executives in its history. His regard would likely rise with the presence of Ellis negotiating such a deal. Migoya guessed back in 2014 that the NFL might push for a change in two years, but here we are in the middle of 2017 with no such change. This may indicate that Ellis, who has been effectively acting as the Broncos’ owner when it comes to official league matters for quite some time, has developed a good rapport with the other owners and with Roger Goodell, lessening any concern about the team’s uncertain ownership state.  Contrast this with the Titans, who Goodell has publicly criticized in several instances for not being in full compliance with NFL ownership rules after Bud Adams died.

Getting NFL approval is very important to ensure that good relations are established with any new ownership. But I’m curious (and once again, thoughts from the legal eagles here are appreciated) if this would hold up legally under antitrust law if someone wanted to push the limits. One of my fears has been a rogue billionaire swooping in to purchase the Broncos beyond league mechanisms, and then arguing in court that the NFL has no right to stop it.  When Al Davis sued the league, it created decades of enmity between he and the rest of the league, with no recourse short of kicking the Raiders out, which of course didn’t happen (although that would have been so sweet). I definitely do not want the Broncos to be seen in that kind of animosity.

If an ownership change involving Elway is in play, it would make sense if such a deal could not be finalized until the league’s fall meeting, which takes place October 17-18 in New York.

The future of the Broncos’ ownership is a really big deal that all fans need to pay keen attention to.

Regardless of whether it’s Elway, a Bowlen child, or someone else, whoever does succeed Pat Bowlen (one of the best owners in NFL history that needs to be recognized as such) matters. Success in all professional sports starts at the top.  A change in ownership can follow with a change in results on the field, for better or worse.  In the NFL, the 49ers went from the elite franchise of the 1980s and 1990s to largely a laughingstock when Eddie DeBartolo, Jr. lost control of the team to the York family.  In the NBA, James Dolan’s ownership of the Knicks has been a repeated comedy of errors.

Broncos fans should all be hoping that they get an owner that continues Bowlen’s winning culture–and also hope that they’re not pining for Hank Scorpio to swoop in and pry ownership away to some slob at a nuclear plant that would be deemed to be better than the new boss.  At least he could pretend to be a great Bronco