December 13, 2018

The Other Bowlen Girl: The family feud over a $2.65B football franchise

The Bowlen sisters, 2 of the heiresses to the Denver Broncos dynasty, are duking it out to succeed their father at the helm of the $2.65B family business.

Before Alzheimer’s-afflicted owner of the Denver Broncos, Pat Bowlen, stepped down from his throne in 2014, he outlined a specific succession plan for one of his 7 children to take over his Denver dynasty. 

But when Beth Bowlen Wallace claimed the Broncos crown last spring, the 3 interim trustees blocked her bid — in apparent support of a younger Bowlen sister, Brittany. Now the 2 factions are taking the issue to court.

Because, like many American pro sports franchises, the Broncos’ ownership is a family affair.

An American monarchy

Bowlen bought the team with 3 siblings in 1984. He stipulated the following for his blood successor: an advanced graduate degree, 5 years with the team, business acumen, leadership experience, and personal integrity.

The 48-year-old Bowlen Wallace appears to fit the bill: she has a law degree, years of executive Broncos experience, business-founding experience, and a long volunteer history. 

The treasonous trustee triumvirate

The other trustees issued a “strongly worded” rejection of Bowlen Wallace’s capability and qualifications (possibly to retain control until their chosen successor, the similarly qualified 28-year-old Brittany Bowlen, is old enough to take over). 

After the rejection, Bowlen Wallace and her uncle Bill Bowlen sued the trust for “conflicts of interest that impair their ability to act impartially.” In response, the trust asked the NFL to step in.

It’s a messy feud, but it’s nothing unusual for the NFL… 

The NFL’s feudal future

The history of NFL ownership looks like 16th-century England: parents disown children (the Bensons for ownership of the Saints), rivalrous brothers duel (the Richardsons for the Panthers), and illegitimate sons emerge to take the throne (the Smiths for the Falcons).

The NFL’s ownership rules promote this infighting: Only individuals who pay 30% upfront (hundreds of millions) can buy franchises — which explains why families like the Johnsons (as in Johnson & Johnson) and the Fords (yes, those Fords) end up in the NFL. 

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