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Broncos President & CEO Joe Ellis sheds light on long offseason to-do list

Henry Chisholm Avatar
January 3, 2018

Football is a business, you’ve heard it a million times.

The man in charge of the business side of the Denver Broncos is Joe Ellis.

When Broncos’ owner Pat Bowlen stepped down as the team’s CEO, he handed the reigns to Ellis, who has now served as the president & CEO for seven years. Since then, Ellis has attained funding for $65 million in upgrades to the team’s stadium and training facilities, helped bring John Elway back into the organization to lead the team’s football operations, and, most notably, helped lead the team to two Super Bowl appearances, winning one.

But after the Broncos’ first losing season under his command, and back-to-back playoff absences, Ellis’ job is getting a little bit tougher.

“I can tell you what I would tell our people on the business side,” Ellis said during his end-of-season press conference, Tuesday morning. “This is the time where you have to do your best work. You have to make your best connections with our fans, new sponsors and old sponsors.”

Disappointing seasons can do serious damage to a team’s finances. Fewer tickets are sold, fans buy less gear, and sponsors aren’t willing to pay as much to associate themselves with the team. The Broncos’ 2017 revenue hasn’t been released, but Forbes estimated that the team’s operating income—essentially profit before taxes and depreciation—fell from $82 million to $81 million in 2016, following a near $20 million jump following the Broncos’ Super Bowl 50 win. NFL teams averaged an operating income of $101.38 million in 2016, a 10 percent increase.

Despite that, though, Ellis said that the team is in a strong enough financial position to do whatever is necessary to improve.

“What I’ve got to do now is focus on the future,” he said. “That starts right away.”

With Elway in charge of the team’s on-the-field product, Ellis is left to solve things like the team’s stadium naming rights conundrum. Since 2011, Sports Authority has paid $6 million per year to have its name emblazoned on Mile High Stadium in bright red letters. The money goes toward stadium upgrades and renovations, so that tax payers aren’t asked for more funding. When Sports Authority went bankrupt prior to the 2016 season, the Broncos were left without a stadium sponsor and a major revenue stream.

After spending two years without a stadium sponsor, Ellis expects to have a new one, at least a temporary sponsor, before the Broncos take the field in 2018, and the Sports Authority branding will be removed starting in the next week or two.

“It’s a complicated deal to put this together,” he said. “We have, I think, 13 seasons left on our lease, and I’d like to wrap up the naming rights deal and then extend that, because the Broncos aren’t going anywhere.”

Last May, the Broncos came under fire for revoking season ticket rights from fans who sold the majority of their tickets online for a profit, rather than going to the games themselves. Most of the public outrage centered around a few ticket holders who lost their seats while they were on active duty in the military or facing medical issues serious enough that they were physically unable to attend games.

But with over 70,000 people on the Broncos’ season ticket waiting list, Ellis feels it’s important for the team to ensure that season-ticket holders aren’t abusing their privilege and the Broncos will continue to monitor how season tickets are used.

“We will always want to put tickets in the hands of people that want to go to the games,” he said. “That process last year, we had unveiled a lot of people that quite frankly were selling their seats for straight profit. That’s not what we want.”

Finally, Ellis is also one of three trustees who will determine which of the Bowlen children will take over control of the team, along with local attorney Mary Kelly and the Broncos’ in-house counsel Rich Slivka. He says that nothing has changed on this front and that there is no frontrunner or timetable for the decision.

“When a child is ready, one of the adult children will be in place,” Ellis said. “There are a few that are interested. I stay in touch with the family and stay in touch with them, and monitor their activities.”

Through the good times and the bad, Ellis seems to believe that the key to running a successful franchise is respecting those who put the food on your table. Prior to the Broncos’ Week 14 drubbing of the Jets, when Denver boasted a lowly 3-9 record, Ellis walked through the parking lot (with a body guard) to talk to fans about the state of the team. He said he was impressed by the “appreciative criticism” he received.

“I really believe that we have a tremendous and loyal following here, and we should be able to capitalize on that, treat them fairly and do things right where they’ll come back even when you have a year we had this year,” Ellis said. “Now if it keeps up, which I don’t expect it to, then you face challenges.”

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