New owner, new stadium for Denver Broncos seems likely but key questions remain

Peyton Manning with his bust at Empower Field at Mile High Stadium's Ring of Fame Plaza. Credit: Ron Chenoy, USA TODAY Sports.
Peyton Manning with his bust at Empower Field at Mile High Stadium's Ring of Fame Plaza. Credit: Ron Chenoy, USA TODAY Sports.

For the first time since 1984, the Denver Broncos have a new owner.

Robson Walton, the former Chairman of the Board of Walmart and Sam Walton’s son, led a group and purchased the Broncos for a world-record $4.65 billion. 24 of 32 NFL team owners must still vote to approve the deal, but it’s as good as done.

And with the deal — along with Walton’s incredible $70 billion fortune — Broncos fans have their eyes on the prize: A new stadium.

Stadium, stadium, stadium! Empower Field at Mile High must feel like Jan right now. (Kids, look up The Brady Bunch.)

Is “New Mile High Stadium” as the locals call it, a terrible stadium? No. In fact, Bowlen built it right next door to the original Mile High Stadium — which was first Bears Stadium, built in 1948 and renovated tons of times — and he modeled the new stadium after the old. To wit, New Mile High has exactly two more seats than the old one did. It also has wider seats, and the South Stands no longer only have bench seating as they did in the original.

But back to the new stadium. In 2012, they updated it to include a new LED video board, and then when the city of Denver was bidding for the 2026 FIFA World Cup, they added needed LED lights and made seating and locker room upgrades. Plus, they added the Ring of Fame Plaza in 2013, a way to see busts and pillars of the 33 greatest players, coaches and owners in team history.

But, even with all that history and given the fact it’s only 21 years old, fans are still clamoring for a new stadium. Of course, the fact the stadium caught on fire during a welding incident this year seems to be pushing people further towards the team needing a new stadium.

And while Walton hasn’t said yet whether he’d build a new one or not, there are many questions to ask about this new stadium.

Dome or no dome?

Even 20-plus years ago, when Bowlen was wanting a new stadium, fans and media analysts wondered if they would put a retractable dome on New Mile High. Instead, Bowlen went the relatively cheap way, spending only $400 million, and keeping it open-air. According to the Denver Post at the time, the Broncos elected to keep it open-air because they were worried about cost overruns with a dome and they wanted to play on natural, grass turf.

Of course, technology has come a long way over the last two decades and indoor stadiums are becoming more the norm. For Denver, a retractable dome would mean being able to host a Super Bowl, which is the holy grail for NFL teams. But, what would it mean for snow games? Would they close the dome and keep it a perfectly warm 72 degrees inside when it’s 10 degrees and snowing?

There are many games over the years in which the Broncos enjoyed an advantage due to the snow and cold. One is the 1984 “Broncos Blizzard” game on Monday Night Football against the Green Bay Packers, in which the Pack fumbled the ball on the first play of their first two drives of the game.

So, is it worth playing in a “perfect” environment for the chance at a Super Bowl?

Location?

Last time, the Broncos built New Mile High in the parking lot of Old Mile High Stadium. That’s not really an option this time around, considering how the parking lots have been constructed. And, considering a domed stadium — and even a new open-air one — will likely require more space than the current stadium, too.

So, where would the new stadium be, if not in the heart of Denver?

One person on Twitter suggested they move out of Dove Valley and put the entire stadium and training area all together, like the Dallas Cowboys and their Jerry World that cost $1.3 billion to construct. Of course, putting everything together like that would require even more space.

The Colorado Rapids’ Dicks’ Sporting Goods Park and complex features 21 full-size soccer fields on the edge of the Rocky Mountain National Wildlife Refuge in Commerce City; where’s another giant plot of land like that in the Denver metro area?

Really, the only option seems to be on the south side of town, maybe as far south as Lone Tree. Imagine the headache of commuting to a stadium down there compared to the heart of Denver, where there are tons of bars, restaurants and even public transit.

Or, maybe the Broncos would play in Boulder at Folsom Field while New Mile High is torn down and another erected in its place? That’s what they did in Minnesota, but it seems highly unlikely.

The location of a new stadium seems to be the most head-scratching question of all.

Private or public funding?

This one has already struck a nerve for those living in Denver.

Walton is the the richest owner in sports, so would he really ask the taxpayers to fork over the funds to finance a stadium?

Well, it happened 20 years ago. Bowlen and the team paid 25% of the stadium cost while taxpayers paid the other 75%. Some of the taxpayer money came from Invesco Funds, who paid $120 million for naming rights for 10 years. The rest was paid by taxpayers at a 10 cents on $100 tax.

This time around, the stadium will likely cost at least $1 billion. And if it’s a retractable dome, that’s almost certain, especially if they move the training facility and add their own bars/restaurants on-site.

As of right now, a guess at how it would be funded is the same way the LA Rams’ new, incredible facility was funded by Walton’s brother-in-law Stan Kroenke: Privately. That venue cost $5 billion to construct.

Putting the stadium before the horse

Of course, we’re getting ahead of ourselves a bit here.

Walton hasn’t officially purchased the team yet, so therefore hasn’t spoken on his plans with the team or the stadium. However, it does seem incredibly likely the Broncos will be playing in a new stadium in the next five years. It should be noted that the sky-high valuations of NFL teams are greatly dependent on their stadiums, so having a new, $5 billion beauty will only help to push the Broncos value a Mile Higher.

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