During Pat Bowlen’s 35 years as the owner of the Denver Broncos, he has left his mark on the team, the Denver area and the larger NFL community. The Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Contributors Committee recognized his remarkable accomplishments — which include a winning legacy and immeasurable contributions to the league’s growth — by selecting him as a finalist for the Class of 2019. As the final vote approaches, DenverBroncos.com will speak with a number of people who have seen firsthand Pat Bowlen’s impact on the Broncos and the NFL.
We continue with former FOX Sports president David Hill, who worked closely with Bowlen on NFL broadcast deals. Hill and Bowlen helped negotiate the NFL’s first deal with FOX, which had never before broadcast regularly occurring sports programming. The deal helped usher in a new era for the NFL, and Bowlen was at the forefront of the movement to help the NFL grow.
Hill describes, in his own words, how Bowlen impacted the NFL and why he deserves to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“Well, to be honest, I’m surprised that he hasn’t been [elected] already. If you look at the success of the National Football League, Pat was one of three owners — well, actually [initially] one of two owners [Bowlen and Jerry Jones] and then Bob Kraft came in — that could see that the league needed to be put on a different financial footing. [They worked] with the [former NFL] commissioner, Paul Tagliabue, who was very much in favor of both of them, which is why they [were] on the Broadcast Committee.
“It was Pat’s ideas … [that helped] turn the whole thing around. If you look at the success of the league over the last 20 years, I believe that Pat Bowlen and Jerry Jones and Commissioner Tagliabue were the key architects.
“Pat and Jerry and Paul took a huge gamble [by agreeing to the FOX deal]. FOX was not really a network. FOX didn’t have a sports department. They had hired an Australian out of London to produce American football, which on the surface looked absolutely ridiculous. They took the gamble.
“It’s very difficult to imagine now, but CBS wanted to lower the cost they were paying for the NFL. They didn’t believe it was worthwhile. … And [the three men] saw that the CBS audience was getting older. Pat, Jerry and Paul realized that you need to continually refresh your fan base because if you don’t refresh your fan base, your audience ends up dying. And [they] saw FOX as a way to do that, and that’s exactly the way it worked out. And that really was being pushed by Pat.
“Pat always looked for excellence. The way he built his team [and] the stadium. Everything about Pat is first class, and I think that he pushed so hard to give the NFL all those things that make it stand apart as a league — in leadership, in ethics, in so many things that were part of Pat [and] which have become part of the NFL.
“I was totally fond of him. I think that he was insatiably curious. He loved Denver, he loved his team, he loved the league and he was just a genuinely nice person. He was very funny. He and I got on very, very well. We’d talk maybe two or three times a week in the early days. I would seek his opinion on any given number of things, and he was very helpful when FOX [pursued] the Major League Baseball Contract. I got a lot of insights into the minds of the baseball owners from Pat."