Seemed to me, there were millions of Broncos fans
who felt the same as Lew and I did. He asked me if I would go public with
my feelings, as a member of the business community with something of
a profile. Lew thought it would matter. I said sure.
I talked to a reporter from The Denver Post, and the next day there
was a big story about how the business leader John Hickenlooper opposed
selling off the naming rights. Everywhere I went for days, everyone was talking about that story. I thought, Well, that’s interesting. I had said
what I said because I thought it was the right thing to do, but there was
also an ancillary marketing benefit for the Wynkoop, a Denver brewery I co-founded. I got more involved.
I did some research. I got a blue-chip consulting company to estimate how much the name was worth. The appraisal showed that the liquid gold brand value of “Mile High” to the metro Denver area was well over $100 million.
A bit more research showed that increasing annual city taxes for individuals by $4.24 per person would cover all of the proposed revenue from selling the name; then all Coloradans could keep their beloved Mile High Stadium name. I asked a local pollster and Wynkoop regular, Floyd Ciruli, if he would add a couple of questions to one of his polls to find out how willing taxpayers might be to pay for that. Almost 70 percent of locals surveyed said they would gladly pay. Floyd told me that was unheard of—that many people willing to pay a tax for anything. Again, as Lincoln put it, with public sentiment nothing can fail; without it, nothing can succeed.
We called a “press conference”—we meaning Lew and I. We set up some card tables with sheets over them outside the new stadium. Lew and his wife and a couple of their friends, and a couple of friends from the Wynkoop, drew up some posters and slogans for the backdrop. Lew sent out a press release. And we waited for the crowd.
Which never came.
But we did get reporters from all three local newspapers, and we had all five TV stations with cameras there. There were maybe ten people total on hand. Lew made me do almost all the talking. I laid out our case. That night we were on every news channel, and we were on the front page of the newspapers the next day. The earth shuddered beneath our feet.
But the Metropolitan Football Stadium District Commission (a nine-member board with one representative from each of the six original Colorado counties, and three representatives appointed by the governor) yawned. They knew public sentiment was against them. They had been going around to the counties gauging public response to the “possible sale” of the naming rights, which they had found was three-to-one against, and still the commission continued right along doing as they
Things changed in the fall of 2000. For the stadium deal and for me.
As the finishing touches were being put on the new stadium, the commissioners decided to give one of the TV stations a tour. Because almost
all the commissioners were from the suburbs and Republicans, they
asked the conservative governor, Bill Owens, to be the pretty face of the
tour. All well and good.
Except that Denver mayor Wellington Webb caught wind of this and
blew a gasket. He had worked his butt off to pass the regional sales tax to
build the stadium. Governor Owens had opposed it. Plus, he and Owens
had gotten crosswise so many times they couldn’t stand to be in the same
room with each other. Mayor Webb was seething. He asked his press secretary, Andrew Hudson, “Who’s that beer guy in LoDo who is trying to
save the name ‘Mile High Stadium’? Chickencooper, Hickenpooper...”