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The Broncos are officially up for sale

The Bowlen family said it hopes to complete the sale before the start of the 2022 NFL season.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The worst-kept secret in the NFL has been outed.

The Denver Broncos announced their team will be placed on the market. Forbes last fall listed the Broncos' market value at $3.75 billion.

Joe Ellis, the Broncos' chief executive officer and one of three trustees to the Patrick D. Bowlen Trust, in which the team is currently held, said in a statement:

"The Pat Bowlen Trust announced today the beginning of a sale process for the Denver Broncos. We have retained Steve Greenberg of Allen & Company as our financial advisor and Joe Leccese of Proskauer Rose LLP as our legal advisor for this transition of ownership.''

Greenberg, the son of Hall of Fame slugger Hank Greenberg, has already been instrumental in helping Denver through a sports franchise transaction. He was Major League Baseball deputy commissioner to Fay Vincent in early 1990s who helped bring along an expansion franchise to Denver that would eventually be called the Colorado Rockies.

Greenberg was a pretty fair ballplayer himself, hitting .264 with 12 home runs and 54 RBIs in 1972 for the Class AAA Denver Bears.

Greenberg, 73, with his business partner Brian Bedol, co-founded Classic Sports Network (now known as ESPN Classic) and CSTV: College Sports Television (now known as CBS Sports Network) and helped launch the MLB Network.

The Bowlen family said in a statement:

"When Pat Bowlen purchased the Denver Broncos in 1984 with the help of his siblings—John, Bill and Marybeth—he set out with the goal of being No. 1 in everything. Over the past 38 seasons, his vision enabled the Broncos to become champions on and off the field.

"With today beginning the Broncos' transition to new ownership, our family is overwhelmed with gratitude for what this organization and community have meant to us. There are truly no words to express our deep appreciation to all of Broncos Country for its unwavering support during the past four decades.

"We will forever cherish Pat's leadership as a Hall of Fame Owner and CEO, guiding the Broncos to three World Championships, seven Super Bowls, 13 AFC West titles and 21 winning seasons. Off the field, Pat ensured his team gave back to the Denver community with the same passion that Broncos fans displayed every Sunday in the fall.

"Nothing Pat accomplished would have been possible without the players, whom he loved dearly. Thank you to those who proudly wore the Broncos jersey over the years for your commitment to winning and serving our community.

"Our family is eternally grateful for the coaches, support staff and team employees for all of their contributions. Thank you for your countless sacrifices and dedication to the Broncos.

"Pat used to say the Broncos belonged to the fans and that ultimately this was their team. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you for this incredible ride. It has been the honor of our lifetime.

"All of us know that the impact of 'Mr. B' will live on with the Broncos and in the hearts, minds and memories of the fans.

"We will always cheer for the Orange and Blue. Go Broncos!"

Pat Bowlen's 7 children eventually stand to receive 78 percent of the team's sale -- or 11.14 percent each. John Bowlen, a minority owner and one of Pat's brothers, owns 22 percent of the team. If the team is sold for $4 billion, each child would get $445.6 million before taxes, fees and expenses while their uncle John would get $880 million before taxes, fees and expenses.

Credit: AP Photo/Jack Dempsey
Denver Broncos president and CEO Joe Ellis talks with Brittany Bowlen, right, Christianna Bowlen, left and Annabel Bowlen before an NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022, in Denver.

Sources told 9NEWS the decision to put the team up for sale was disappointing to Brittany Bowlen. From the time Pat Bowlen died in June 2019 from complications of Alzheimer's until recent months, it appeared the trustees were grooming Brittany Bowlen to become controlling owner of the team. 

She earned her degree from Notre Dame, and M.B.A. from Duke. She worked two years in the NFL office in New York and one year for the global marketing consulting firm McKinsey & Co., before joining the Broncos' executive office two years ago.

But two lawsuits from family members leveled against the trustees -- one from brother Bill and the other from oldest daughters Amie and Beth -- seemed to split the family's wishes to where the trustees and NFL felt it best if the franchise got a clean start with a new owner.

"Selling an NFL team is a complex process involving numerous parties and league approval procedures," Ellis said. "Nonetheless, the trustees hope to have the sale completed by the start of the 2022 NFL season. The Broncos are a special franchise that is part of the fabric of this region, and whoever emerges as the new owner will certainly understand what the team means to our great fans and this community."

RELATED: Legal source: Auction likely if Broncos put up for sale

A legal source familiar with the Broncos' ownership transition told 9NEWS that should the team be sold, it would likely be through an auction process.

Because the Broncos' franchise and its entities are placed in a trust -- in this case the Patrick D. Bowlen Trust -- the trustees have a fiduciary duty to the beneficiaries to get the highest possible price, pending NFL approval. In short, the team will be sold to the highest bidder who is approved by the NFL.

Former Broncos' quarterback great and general manager John Elway recently told 9News he wants to be involved with the new ownership group in a consultant-type role. A source involved with the sale process also told 9News that Peyton Manning is listening to prospective bidders and has interest in an attachment in some form to the new ownership group.

The Bowlen foundation's three trustees are Ellis, who also serves as the Broncos' chief executive officer and president; Rich Slivka, the team's longtime general counsel; and Bowlen's personal attorney Mark Kelly.

Ellis has repeatedly said it's important to find the right owner to carry on the Broncos tradition and Bowlen's winning ways, but the legal source suggests an auction could mean the trustees would have limited authority in picking the new owner.

RELATED: Source: Robert F. Smith not planning to bid on Broncos

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