John Bowlen Wants To Sell: Now What?

While Nicki Jhabvala did an excellent job on breaking the news of John Bowlen (Pat’s brother) wanting to sell his share of the Broncos (around one third of the team), it got lost in the mix of it being, y’know, being broke the same day the Broncos would host the RaidersJhabvala followed up yesterday by being able to get Bowlen on the record to state his desire to sell, a followup that finally caught the eye of more in the media, such as ProFootballTalk.

As I’ve noted before, the question of the future ownership of the Broncos should be deep in the minds of Broncos fans, as success of a sports franchise always starts with the owner. So what should be considered upon hearing this news?

Roger Goodell is quite satisfied with the status quo.

As is known, while Pat Bowlen battles Alzheimer’s disease, his majority share of the team is held in a trust. One of those trustees is Joe Ellis, who has acted as effective owner in the team by casting official votes for the Broncos in owner meetings. John Elway also has more power than most GMs in the NFL, as he is president of football operations and also serves on the NFL’s prestigious Competition Committee.

As Jhabvala reviewed, Goodell is pleased with the Ellis/Elway arrangement and states that the Broncos are in compliance with league ownership rules. He specifically cited the active participation of Ellis and Elway in league matters, and how their actions would be in line with what Pat Bowlen would want.

This means a lot, because Goodell has not been shy about publicly commenting when he feels (and thus, how other owners he represents feel) teams are not in compliance. This has been seen frequently with the Tennessee Titans in the aftermath of the death of Bud Adams  For whatever reasons, the NFL as a whole is happy with what the Broncos are doing, and unhappy with what the Titans are doing.

Therefore, I feel that it is reasonable to guess at this time that the NFL will exercise approval of John Bowlen’s share with all deliberate speed, and that as long as Pat Bowlen’s trust is in existence, whoever purchases this share would do so with the understanding that the Ellis/Elway operation will continue at least as long as Pat Bowlen is alive.

Minority ownership of the Broncos may be a stepping stone to controlling ownership…of any available NFL team

Now, the natural question to ask would be why would anyone want to put down hundreds of millions of dollars when that person or persons would be unable to run the franchise as they see fit. The best answer that I can see at this point is that this owner would be playing the long game–to get the feet wet as a minority owner with hopes of proving to the current 32 controlling owners that there is worthiness to one day join their ranks.

There is precedent for such an arrangement. Stan Kroenke bought a minority share of the Rams in 1999 that led him to becoming controlling owner of the team in 2010 and has emerged as a powerful owner through his recent move of the Rams back to Los Angeles. Jimmy Haslam became controlling owner of the Browns in 2012, but before he did, in 2008 he purchased a minority share…of their most hated rival, the Steelers.

It’s fair to guess that whoever buys John Bowlen’s share will likely have an interest in controlling the Broncos more than any other team due to familiarity.  That owner may also try to finagle a right of first refusal for the Bowlen trust’s portion should it be dissolved, as Kroenke did with the Rams. But if another team comes up for sale before then, such as the Titans, the minority owner could pounce on that, as Haslam did, knowing that those chances don’t come up very often.

It’s time to start to figure out if any of Pat Bowlen’s children want to run the team.

Whatever the case, whoever does get involved with the Broncos needs to be obviously considered as a possible future controlling owner. The worthiness of that person will need to be be weighed next to the feasibility of any of Bowlen’s seven children, who range in age from 48 to 19.  The only reasonable conclusion as to who that could be is that it is highly unlikely that it would be the other John Bowlen.

The NFL wants to have a succession plan in play for any ownership should any controlling owner meet a demise. The plan of Ellis/Elway has worked to their satisfaction in the short term. There’s no better time to start hashing out a long term solution than the opportunity that is arising from John Bowlen’s desire to sell.

And whenever more is known, Broncos fans should pay keen attention and learn more about the person(s) who are getting more power in Denver. If it’s a Bowlen child, learn more about his or her background as is reasonable. If it’s a new face, learn about this person’s likely extensive business background, how they’ve become successful in that field, and whether that success can relate to running an NFL team.

The fate of the Broncos’ future success will rely open this.