Despite counter-efforts by the estate of the late Edgar Kaiser Jr., who owned the Broncos from 1981-1984, the Denver franchise is now free to be sold, with new ownership expected in place before the 2022 NFL season, as first reported by KUSA. Pat Bowlen, who purchased the Broncos from Kaiser in 1984 and died in 2019, previously created a three-person trust to either sell the team or identify an heir from one of his seven children following his death. Now, thanks to a Denver district court judge's ruling Tuesday, the trustees have officially been cleared to transfer ownership of the franchise.
Kaiser's estate, per The Athletic, claimed that a right of first refusal signed when Bowlen bought the team back in 1984 -- which gave Kaiser's estate the right to match any offer if the Broncos were ever put up for sale -- was still valid. It sought, then, to obtain the right to buy back at least a share of team ownership. But Denver District Judge Shelley I. Gilman sided with the Pat D. Bowlen Trust, including longtime team president Joe Ellis, removing the legal barrier from a potential sale. Gilman specifically linked the invalidity to the fact that both Kaiser and Bowlen have since died, per KUSA, with Kaiser passing in 2012 and Bowlen in 2019.
Ellis is expected to address the ownership situation after the Broncos hire a new head coach, having just dismissed Vic Fangio following the 2021 season.
"We're glad to put this issue behind us and move closer to transitioning ownership of the Denver Broncos," Ellis said in a statement after the ruling. "While our focus at this time is on our head coaching search, we plan to make an announcement regarding ownership shortly after that hire is completed."
Ellis has previously indicated the situation would be resolved before the start of the 2022 season, KUSA reported. There has been controversy surrounding Bowlen's potential successor as the principal owner of the Broncos since his death. One of Bowlen's daughters, Beth Bowlen Wallace, said publicly in 2018 that she was qualified and prepared to take ownership, per KUSA, but the trustees refuted her assertion and instead targeted Brittany Bowlen, one of Bowlen's daughters from his second marriage, as a potential heir. Ellis said over the summer that Brittany Bowlen would require agreement from her six siblings to fully take ownership; each of the siblings currently controls about 11% of the team.
Beth Bowlen Wallace and another sister, Amie Bowlen Klemmer, responded by filing suit, KUSA reports, alleging their father was not mentally fit when he established his three-person trust while battling Alzheimer's, and that he was subject to undue influence by the trustees. The suit was subsequently dismissed in July.