Sports

Denver Broncos' Pre-Season Debut All About Rebranding

Denver Broncos safety Delarrin Turner-Yell posing for a victorious post-game selfie with Greg Penner and Carrie Walton-Penner of the team's new ownership group on August 14.
Denver Broncos safety Delarrin Turner-Yell posing for a victorious post-game selfie with Greg Penner and Carrie Walton-Penner of the team's new ownership group on August 14. Denver Broncos Instagram
The Denver Broncos' 17-7 victory over the Dallas Cowboys in the 2022 pre-season debut for both teams on Saturday, August 14, was essentially meaningless, since the game was a glorified practice session even if it generated a considerable amount of revenue. But at least as interesting as what happened on the Empower Field at Mile High gridiron was the hoopla surrounding new quarterback Russell Wilson, who was omnipresent despite not playing a single down, and the Walton-Penner group, represented by principals Greg Penner and Carrie Walton-Penner, who recently ponied up $4.65 billion to buy the franchise.

As a result, the contest was essentially the coming-out party for the rebranded Broncos — a squad capable of generating excitement and optimism after years of mediocrity.

ESPN calculates the attendance that day at 76,476 — a suspect figure, given that the capacity of the stadium is listed as 76,125. But while the crowd was late in arriving, the joint was packed by the time the action got underway. My wife had been given four club-level seats by a season ticket holder who wasn't able to attend, and we happily filled them.
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Our pre-game view.
Photo by Michael Roberts
The merchandising of Wilson has gotten off to an impressive start: A sizable percentage of fans were clad in variations on his number 3 jersey. Most of this garb looked freshly purchased rather than repurposed; among the record-setting throng at Broncos training camp on July 30, my daughter, Lora, saw someone who'd refreshed an old shirt by sewing Wilson's moniker over the name of the previous number 3 on the roster, unmissed quarterback Drew Lock.

During pre-game warmups, Wilson, who had been announced as a non-participant in the hours before the game, ran a few drills — a decision deemed safe since defenders weren't racing toward him in the hope of disconnecting his head from his neck. And when he jogged off the field into the tunnel prior to the formal introduction of the combatants, he drew a rousing round of applause.
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The scoreboard against the backdrop of a gorgeous Colorado sky.
Photo by Michael Roberts
Before Wilson emerged again, the stadium's jumbotron broadcast a quick chat session featuring Hall of Famer Steve Atwater, broadcaster Alexis Perry and a young fan battling a health challenge, who quickly declared that he was most looking forward to seeing Wilson. Then came several hype videos in which close-ups of Russ looking tough were prevalent — and just as prominent was his hashtag-friendly catchphrase, "Let's Ride," which management has clearly embraced despite the fact that even some of Wilson's teammates have started spoofing his dramatic delivery. Clearly, the powers-that-be see the "Let's Ride" publicity as positive whether folks are laughing at it or with it.

And then there was an extended clip of the Walton-Penner group, complete with glamour shots of most major figures in the collective: Walmart heir Rob Walton; his daughter Carrie; his son-in-law, current Walmart boss Penner; as well as Starbucks chair Mellody Hobson and former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The footage was immediately followed by a live shot of the Penners standing on the sidelines and waving as an enthusiastic ovation enveloped them.
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Thunder leading the team onto the Empower Field at Mile High turf for the first time in 2022.
Photo by Michael Roberts
Oh, yeah: There was a game, too. Because of injury concerns, most of the starters took the night off, leaving the actual performance to the likes of second-string quarterback Josh Johnson, receivers such as Kendall Hinton, Brandon Johnson, Jalen Virgil and the electric Montrell Washington, who made his biggest impact as a punt returner, plus defensive standout Baron Browning. The Cowboys, for their part, didn't put up much of a fight, since many of their decent plays were eliminated because of penalties, leaving the competition itself a mostly ho-hum affair for everyone other than talent evaluators trying to decide who will make the final roster.

The exception was the second quarter, when Denver scored all seventeen of its points — and each time the scoreboard lit up, personnel ran onto the field carrying banners that spelled out "B-R-O-N-C-O-S," with the one in front reading "Let's Ride." Then, shortly after the game, the Broncos published an Instagram video that showed Carrie and Greg greeting players as they came off the field, with safety Delarrin Turner-Yell happily posing for a selfie.

As any Walmart executive knows, that's good branding.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts