Denver Broncos Pour $100 Million Into Changes at Mile High | Westword

What $100 Million Bought in Changes at Empower Field at Mile High

The new owners of the Denver Broncos poured plenty of cash into Mile High, but there's no guarantee the team is staying in the city.
The highlight of the Broncos stadium upgrades is this huge scoreboard.
The highlight of the Broncos stadium upgrades is this huge scoreboard. Molly Martin
Share this:
Bucky the Bronco, the majestic white horse that has sat atop the Broncos stadium since it was built in 2001 and lived at the original Mile High Stadium before that, is still comfortably on his perch above the South Stands.

But after $100 million worth of upgrades were completed at Empower Field at Mile High during the off-season, Bucky’s perch is much higher, thanks to the expanded scoreboard beneath him that is now 70 percent larger, making it the fifth-largest at a National Football League stadium.

The team won’t guarantee how long Bucky will enjoy his new bird’s-eye view, however. When team president Damani Leech spoke to the media on August 25 after unveiling the pricey updates, he said that the $100 million investment is unrelated to whether the team will stay where it is or build a new stadium and move elsewhere.

“That was the point I was trying to make, which I think is really a testament to ownership: They're making this commitment to this stadium only for the near and immediate term,” Leech said. “What we do in the long term is separate from that.”

The team was purchased before the 2022 season by a group comprising Walmart heir Robson Walton; his daughter, Carrie Walton Penner; Carrie's husband, Greg Penner; former secretary of state Condoleeza Rice; Starbucks executive Mellody Hobson; and Formula 1 champion Lewis Hamilton. Even before the deal was done, questions arose as to whether new owners would want a fancy new stadium and whether that stadium would be in Denver or outside the city.

Leech said the team is “probably in the first quarter of that analysis right now.”

And for now, Empower Field — and Denver proper — remains the Broncos' home. Here's what to expect there this season:

The scoreboard is the most obvious upgrade. The team updated the retired numbers display on the side to be cleaner. More impressive, the screen now reaches nearly to the top of the very highest seats in the over-75,000-seat stadium. Even from the twenty-yard line on the other end, it’s imposing. Meanwhile, those sitting in the southern half of the stadium will need to crane their necks to get the full effects of the high-dynamic range display.

Leech wouldn’t say exactly how much of the $100 million went to the scoreboard improvements, but he chuckled as he noted it was “a decent chunk.”

Along with the improved scoreboard, there are eleven new LED boards throughout the stadium. One is a force perspective board that provides a 3-D effect.

“We understand the competitive marketplace we're in,” Leech said. “We're competing against couches and flat-screen TVs and people's basements. So we knew we had to make a meaningful impact, and I think we did.”
click to enlarge Under a sign saying "Broncos Country" sits tons of hats and shirts in Broncos colors.
The new team store is bigger and better (which means sales will be, too).
Catie Cheshire

The team store is over 3,000 feet larger. Ahead of its grand opening, there were already fans waiting around outside, eager to check out the expanded offerings.

“Part of that gave us more space for you as well as gave us more storage for us to refill more quickly on game days,” said Zach Myhra, Broncos senior director of facilities, construction and planning.

According to LeDia Wesley-Espinoza, the team’s retail manager, the items that usually need refills are fan chains, tote bags, foam fingers and jerseys. The team has other exclusive merchandise designs, too, including a line for its newly unveiled white helmets.

During each game, the team store will have an exclusive merchandise rack stocking items that can’t be found online. The Waltons and Penners know plenty about retail, having built or inherited the Walmart empire, and Leech confirmed that they’re pleased with the team store’s updated vibe.

“We gave Greg and Carrie a tour earlier this week, and I think a few of our staff were on their heels a little bit,” he recalled. “Greg started pointing out things in the stadium and Carrie sort of slyly remarked, ‘Do you have some retail experience?’”

Walton-Penner was the one behind a project to bring local muralists to the stadium. By the time the season starts, there will be four murals on the main concourse and more on the suite level.

Thomas Evans, the muralist known as Detour, is working on a mural outside the team store that depicts Broncos Hall of Famers, including John Elway, Demarcus Ware, Peyton Manning and Shannon Sharpe. “Make it feel like a gallery on the side of the stadium,” Evans told the media.

He’s working to finish it before the season starts on September 10, and plans to add a Super Bowl trophy to the colorful work. Artistic duo Lindz and Lamb will also have a mural. Walton-Penner is reportedly interested in filling up more of the stadium’s blank walls as the years go on.
click to enlarge A hazy, colorful background with black outlines of two men.
Local muralist Detour is working on a mural at Empower Field.
Catie Cheshire

And the team’s investment in local culture won't end there. DJ Squizzy Taylor — honored with his own day in May by then-Mayor Michael Hancock — will become the Broncos DJ this year.

The most extensive updates are for those with the most cash: The suite level has been almost completely redone, and the new Breckenridge Bourbon Club will be a members-only area for a limited number of guests.

The hallways around the 100-plus suites have been rejuvenated with homages to team history; each suite has marble  countertops and light wood floors, as well as a new-suite smell, since everything has been replaced but the seats. Still, those in the suites will have trouble seeing the full video board, which is blocked by overhanging seats from the level above in many cases.
click to enlarge Two images of Broncos quarterback John Elway sit on a white wall.
In the suites, you can look at John Elway while you pee in private.
Catie Cheshire

“It's the first time in the 23-year history of the stadium that many of these suites have received a meaningful upgrade,” Leech said. 

But Broncos management is watching out for the little guy, too, by pricing some of the most popular stadium foods — water, sodas, hot dogs, nachos and soft pretzels — at just $5 each. And no concession prices have been raised from last season.

“We had an overall vision of wanting to enhance the game day experience, and there's different ways you can do that,” Leech said. ”What was really important is that we wanted every fan who comes to the stadium on game day to be able to experience something. They may not be able to experience everything, but they can experience something that's new and different.”

The Broncos' season kicks off on September 10 against the Las Vegas Raiders. Here's hoping the team rides as high as that new scoreboard.
Can you help us continue to share our stories? Since the beginning, Westword has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver — and we'd like to keep it that way. Our members allow us to continue offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food, and culture with no paywalls.