The Denver Broncos have cleared their final legal hurdle to begin the process of transferring ownership of the team, likely through a sale of the franchise valued at nearly $4 billion.
Denver County District Court Judge Shelley I. Gilman ruled Tuesday that a right of first refusal agreement between late owners Pat Bowlen and Edgar Kaiser “is no longer valid or enforceable in any respect” and "has terminated in its entirety."
“We’re glad to put this issue behind us and move closer to transitioning ownership of the Denver Broncos," team president and CEO Joe Ellis said in a statement. "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.”
General manager George Paton has sought permission to speak with a half dozen candidates to replace Vic Fangio, whom he fired Sunday morning following Denver's 7-10 finish that gave him a 19-30 record in three seasons.
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The Broncos haven't reached the playoffs since winning Super Bowl 50 six years ago and they've churned through 10 starting quarterbacks since Peyton Manning's retirement following that 2015 championship season.
Pat Bowlen died in 2019, a month shy of his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, following a long bout with Alzheimer's. Several years earlier he had appointed a three-person trust to determine the future of the franchise.
Two daughters from Bowlen’s first marriage withdrew a lawsuit in July that contested Bowlen’s will, appearing to pave the way for a sale. Later that month, Ellis said he hoped to have the long-running ownership saga settled by the start of the 2022 season.
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The team's parent companies, however, had to first go to court in September to ask the judge to rule that Kaiser's estate no longer had the right of first refusal to any potential sale of the franchise, which Forbes valued at $3.75 billion.
That trial, which lasted a week, pitted the partnership which owns the Broncos and the Vancouver-based ROFR Holdings. The judge reviewed arguments over the past two months before issuing her ruling Tuesday.
“We are very pleased with the court’s order today terminating any right of first refusal,” team lawyer Dan Reilly said. “The trustees will continue moving forward with the ownership transition process.”
The lawsuit came in response to a surprise May 2020 letter lawyers for PDB Sports Ltd. and Bowlen Sports Inc. received from ROFR Holdings suggesting it had the right to match any offer in the event the team were sold.
The letter said Kaiser had transferred his stake in the agreement with Pat Bowlen to ROFR Holdings, a corporation he started in 2005. ROFR is an acronym for Right of First Refusal.
PDB Sports and Bowlen Sports responded that the pact from Kaiser’s 1984 sale of his 60.8% stake to Bowlen was no longer valid because it was a personal one between the two men which ended with Kaiser's death in 2012.
Gilman's ruling in the team’s favor now facilitates either the transfer of the team from the Pat D. Bowlen Trust to Brittany Bowlen, 32, or, more likely, clears the path for the sale of the franchise to an outside buyer.
NFL franchise values have skyrocketed with new broadcast deals and the league’s embrace of sports gambling, which is now legal in many states, including Colorado.
The Broncos were expected to draw bids of $4 billion or more, which would be a record for a U.S. sports franchise and nearly double what the Carolina Panthers sold for three years ago when David Tepper bought that team for $2.275 billion.
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