Judge's ruling clears way for Broncos to be sold

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — A Denver judge ruled Tuesday the heirs of former Broncos owner Edgar Kaiser Jr. cannot buy back any portion of the franchise as part of a right of first refusal agreement, clearing the way for a potential sale of the team.

A holdings group, representing Kaiser’s estate, had petitioned the court that it had right of refusal for any sale of the franchise dating back to when Kaiser sold the team to Pat Bowlen in 1984. Kaiser died in 2012 and Bowlen died in 2019.

Denver District judge Shelley L. Gilman ruled Kaiser’s heirs had no claim and the right of first refusal included in the 1984 sales agreement between Kaiser and Bowlen was “no longer valid or enforceable in any respect.”

The Broncos are currently owned by the Pat Bowlen Trust, put into place by Bowlen before he stepped away from the team’s day-to-day operations in 2014. Bowlen died in 2019 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease.

Broncos CEO Joe Ellis, one of three trustees overseeing the operations of the team, has said if Bowlen’s children cannot agree on a majority owner the team would likely be sold. That agreement between the siblings is not expected — a lawsuit between them was poised to go to trial before it was dismissed last July — and the team is expected to formally go up for sale in the coming months.

“We’re glad to put this issue behind us and move closer to transitioning ownership of the Broncos,” Ellis said Tuesday in a statement. “While our focus is on our head coaching search, we plan to make an announcement regarding ownership shortly after that hire is completed.”

The Broncos fired head coach Vic Fangio on Sunday after he posted a 19-30 record in three seasons, including this year’s 7-10 finish. The Broncos have had five straight losing seasons and have missed the playoffs six consecutive years.

The Broncos have been valued at just under $4 billion and Hall of Fame quarterbacks John Elway and Peyton Manning have, at times, each expressed interest in potentially being part of any group that would bid on the team. Manning said earlier this season, when he was enshrined in the team’s Ring of Fame, he would “listen” to any proposals about joining an ownership group, but “that it would have to be the right fit.”

League rules state a “majority” owner must own at least 30% of a franchise, so in a sale of $4 billion that would mean the majority investor would have to control $1.2 billion.

Ellis said when the Broncos opened training camp this past summer he expected the ownership transition to take place, potentially, before the 2022 season. He did touch on the ownership situation again Sunday as he took questions about the team’s head coaching search and said Tuesday’s ruling would have to come before he could offer a timetable.

“I had told you — I think back in July — that I would speak to you as soon as the season is over about a transition in ownership,” Ellis said Sunday. ” … Out of respect for the court, I’m going to wait and get back to you at a later date on that. … I want the court to be able to let its process see through to the end. From there, I’ll be able to get back to you and let you know where things stand.”

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