Posted: September 01, 2009

Sports biz: Beering with Bowlen

Stewart Schley

Happy anniversary, Patrick Dennis Bowlen!

 Grab a seat and order whatever you want from Clancy over there at the bar. There are two-fers on Fat Tire until 6 p.m. Anyway, it’s good to see you. It’s been what? Twenty-six years, almost, since you and your mom and siblings cobbled together $65 million or so and bought the Broncos from that fellow Canadian Kaiser who had gotten himself a bit strapped for cash.

Pretty good investment you guys made. By some accounts, Team Invesco is now worth something like $1.1 billion. I’m just tossing out rough numbers here, but I think that means over a 25-year run you guys have earned a compound annual growth rate of 12.5 percent, which creams the Standard & Poor’s stock index by a good 3 percentage points a year. So cheers, mate. I think there are some pretzels here somewhere if you want.

Anyway, those are just the cold ROI calculations. The real rewards come from the field, right? Two Super Bowl victories, a thrilling rivalry with the Cleveland Browns in the 1980s, a couple of Hall of Famers under your watch in Elway and Zimmerman. And then on the side, a sweet gift of $270 million from the good taxpayers of the metro Denver area to pay most of the tab on a stadium stuffed with those high-end luxury suites. Still don’t know how you pulled that one off.

Must have driven Jack Kent Cooke crazy. Remember? Back in Washington, D.C., Jack had to front most of the money for the new Redskins stadium, but here in Broncos Country we loyalists all pitched for two-thirds of the tab. Pretty sure the value of your family’s investment soared the instant the “yes” votes were tallied. That must have been fun.

You’ve had the touch, all right. Although it’s not like – and don’t take this the wrong way, because I’m just putting this out there – it’s not like owning an NFL franchise is entirely a risky proposition. I mean, you guys have a bit of a head start here considering each of you gets about $77 million a year from national TV rights before the first fan even crosses the turnstile.

You ask Clancy over there, and he’ll tell you he’d take that anytime, especially because he’s been staring down a Friday payroll a couple of times lately without any money in the bank. 

But still, you’ve made some darn shrewd decisions as a group: starting your own TV network, expanding internationally, adding the whole Thursday night thing. Somewhere along the way football became big business, and you’ve been in there for the ride. I read in Forbes that your team takes in something like $226 million in revenue annually – a darn good take, sixth best in the league.

You want another cold one? We should celebrate a bit. You’ve been great for our team, really. I like what you said the other day in the Broncos magazine about the fact that winning is your primary goal. Good for the fans and also good for business. We’re happy that it was you, not some loser like Bidwell, who bought the team back in ’84.

Not that you’re infallible as a businessman. That spat with Edgar Kaiser over whether you should have given him shot at buying back in? You could have handled that one better. And the big moves this off-season, firing Shanahan and jettisoning Cutler? That was some pretty bold stuff, Pat. But we’re an optimistic bunch in Broncos Country, so we think it might work out. And I have to tell you, some of us were getting a bit restless anyway. So good instincts there.

Anyway, thanks for stopping by. We don’t get to see you that much, and truth is, you don’t always come off all that warm and friendly in front of a microphone. So it’s nice to catch you in person for a cold one. Maybe you can stop by the barbecue pit at Brooklyn’s one Sunday morning this season before a game.

We’ll pick up the tab. Again.

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Stewart Schley writes about sports, media and technology from Denver. Read this and Schley’s past columns on the Web at cobizmag.com and email him at stewart@stewartschley.com

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