As a retired American football player, John Elway has a net worth of $145 million. He is currently the Denver Broncos’ general manager and president of football operations. Elway was an extremely successful quarterback throughout his career, setting numerous records before retiring in 1999.
John Elway earned a total of $47 million in salary during his NFL career. During his playing career, he earned tens of millions of dollars in additional income from endorsements. Outside of professional sports, he has made and lost millions of dollars in business investments. These transactions are discussed in greater detail later in this article.
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John Elway was born on June 28, 1960, in Port Angeles, Washington, alongside his twin sister. Growing up with his twin and older sister, John saw his father excel as a football coach from a young age. As John’s father, Jack, was a football coach at the University of Montana and Washington State, the family moved around the country.
As a high school quarterback, John Elway established himself as a “dual-threat” who could pass and run with equal proficiency. During his high school years, Elway also excelled at baseball. By the time of graduation, he had received football scholarship offers from dozens of colleges.
He eventually went on to play quarterback for Stanford University. Despite the fact that his final game for Stanford was marred by a controversial play that led to the team’s defeat, he amassed an impressive record that drew interest from the NFL. He also excelled on the baseball field and earned a bachelor’s degree in economics.
The Baltimore Colts selected John Elway in the 1983 NFL Draft, and he controversially convinced them to trade him immediately. If he wasn’t traded, he threatened to play for the New York Yankees (Elway still had the potential to become a professional baseball player). He eventually got his wish, being traded to the Denver Broncos.
Elway struggled to establish himself as the Broncos’ starting quarterback at the start of his career. When Steve DeBerg got a shoulder injury, Elway took over and led them to a Super Bowl victory in 1986. The Broncos returned to the Super Bowl in 1987 but were defeated for the second time. They returned to the Super Bowl in 1989 and suffered a humiliating defeat. Elway was still very young at this point in his career, and some questioned whether he would ever win the Super Bowl.
In 1997, Elway led his team back to the Super Bowl and finally got the victory he had hoped for. Elway’s performance once again left something to be desired – but it didn’t matter. The Broncos had triumphed. Elway won the Super Bowl again the following year, putting in one of the best performances of his career. In his final game, he was named MVP.
He established five car dealerships under the brand name John Elway Autos. The dealerships in Denver were sold to AutoNation in 1997 for $82.5 million. The agreement also allowed AutoNation to use Elway’s name in marketing until 2006. Elway was able to re-enter the auto dealership industry under his own name after the contract expired in 2006.
In the years since, John has opened two Toyota Scion dealerships in California, one Chevrolet dealership in Colorado, one Chrysler Jeep dealership in Colorado, and one Cadillac franchise under the Sonic Automotive brand.
Broncos Potential Ownership
John Elway had the opportunity to buy what would eventually be a very profitable stake in the Denver Broncos franchise. As John’s career was winding down in the late 1990s, Broncos owner Pat Bowlen offered Elway a 10% stake in the team for $15 million. The agreement also included the option for Elway to acquire an additional 10% if he refused to accept the $21 million in salary he was owed at the time. He would have also served as Bowlen’s special assistant and the Broncos’ COO (which would of course come with a salary of its own).
In other words, if John contributed $15 million in cash and forfeited $21 million in future earnings, he would own 20% of the Broncos. That equates to $36 million for a 20 percent stake in an NFL franchise. Pat Bowlen valued the Broncos at $180 million based on those figures.
The agreement also allowed Elway to resell his stake for a $5 million premium plus 8% interest per year since the initial purchase. Finally, Elway will have first dibs if the Bowlen family decides to sell the entire franchise. Elway declined to pursue the transaction.
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This proved to be a disastrous decision.
Pat Bowlen’s heirs agreed to sell the Broncos to Walmart heir Rob Walton for $4.5 billion on June 6, 2022. As a result, if Elway had secured that 20% stake, he would have received $900 million when the team was sold.
Years later, many observers were perplexed as to why John never put pen to paper. These observers have also noted that Elway did have the $15 million lying around – in fact, he sold a number of car dealerships for more than $80 million a year before Pat Bowlen proposed the deal. In his defense, Elway stated that he did not agree to the deal because he did not see a role for himself in the Broncos’ executive suite.
Other Risky Investments
Over the years, John Elway has made a number of bad investments. One of the most notable was his decision to invest $15 million in a Ponzi scheme (the same amount he could have invested in a 10% stake in the Broncos). He ended up losing $7 million before being able to recover $6 million.
In 1998, he made a large investment in a new company called Laundromax, which failed to take off. He also paid $500,000 for over 130,000 shares of Que Pasa, a Latin-language media company. By the year 2000, share prices had dropped from $27 to $1, resulting in a massive loss for Elway. Elway invested millions of dollars in a website called MVP.com in 1999, which was quickly shut down. He was also a co-owner of the Colorado Crush, a football team that failed after the Arena Football League was dissolved.