DENVER (AP) — The next quarterback clash in Denver could very well pit John Elway and Peyton Manning vying to serve as the public face of any new Broncos ownership group.
The decks must be cleared of any possible pitfalls before any multibillion-dollar bid, however, much like homebuyers wanting to make sure the title is clear to their new dreamhouse.
So, the Broncos' parent companies are asking Denver County District Court Judge Shelly L. Gilman to rule that former owner Edgar Kaiser's estate no longer has the right of first refusal to any potential sale of the franchise, which Forbes values at $3.75 billion.
The trial pitting the partnership which owns the Broncos and the Vancouver-based ROFR Holdings begins Wednesday and is expected to last at least a week with a ruling anticipated in November or December.
Pat Bowlen, who died in 2019 after a long bout with Alzheimer's, bought the team from Kaiser in 1984. Bowlen appointed a three-person trust to determine the future of the franchise.
Brittany Bowlen, 31, is the trust's choice to become controlling owner. Team president Joe Ellis, who is one of the trustees, has said the seven children from Bowlen's two marriages must agree on which one succeeds their father to keep the franchise off the market.
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.
The lawsuit comes in response to a 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 is 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PDB Sports and Bowlen Sports responded that the pact from Kaiser’s 1984 sale of his 60.8% stake to Bowlen is no longer valid because it was a personal one which ended when Kaiser died in 2012.
A ruling in the partnership's favor would facilitate either the transfer of the team from the Pat D. Bowlen Trust to Brittany Bowlen or clear 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 would be expected to draw bids of $4 billion or more, 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.
Kaiser twice lost cases to Bowlen in court, once after Bowlen bought out two of his siblings' shares of the team and another time in 1999 when Kaiser contended Bowlen's offering a 10% slice of the team to Elway triggered his right of first refusal.
Manning said during the Super Bowl in February that he's keeping a close watch on the Broncos' ownership saga. He and his family have remained in Denver following his stellar four-year run as the Broncos quarterback that culminated with a win in Super Bowl 50.
Elway, the team's president of football operations, would be another intriguing front man for any multibillionaire seeking to buy the team. He won two titles during his Hall of Fame playing career and was the architect of the franchise's third championship.