Former owner claims buyback privilege

Updated: February 6, 2004, 8:56 PM ET
Associated Press

DENVER -- Less than a week after being voted into the Hall of Fame, former quarterback John Elway took the stand Friday in the long-simmering dispute between the current and former owners of the Denver Broncos.

Former owner Edgar Kaiser says he was cheated of a chance to buy back part ownership of the football team that has been part of Denver's fabric for decades.

His federal lawsuit accuses current owner Pat Bowlen of distributing ownership interests in the Broncos to family members in violation of their 1984 sale agreement. Kaiser also said Bowlen gave Elway a chance to buy a stake in the team, despite a provision that gave Kaiser the first shot at any such offer.

If Kaiser wins, a second trial will be held to determine what Bowlen owes Kaiser, which could include monetary damages _ or even a chance to buy a share of the team.

Bowlen's attorneys, however, say Kaiser was aware of Bowlen's ownership plans and that Kaiser is trying to buy back a share of the team at 1984 prices.

Elway testified Friday that from the time Kaiser sold the team he understood Bowlen to be the team owner. But he also said it was common knowledge within the organization that members of Bowlen's family had some ownership involvement.

Kaiser bought the Broncos for about $30 million in 1981. Bowlen bought a 60.8 percent stake from Kaiser for $65 million three years later, and bought the rest from minority shareholders in 1985.

Elway said that after he retired from the team in 1999, Bowlen offered him a deal to buy up to a 20 percent stake in the team and work for Bowlen, eventually becoming the team's chief operations officer. Elway said he decided against taking Bowlen's offer because he didn't want to be a minority shareholder.

Bowlen's attorneys have disputed Kaiser's claim to a right of first refusal, and said the question was moot because Elway declined the offer.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press